Scholarship & Financial Aid

A Brief Introduction to College Scholarships

It may surprise you to learn just how much money is available out there in the form of college scholarships. There are millions awarded annually, and there is simply no reason why you shouldn't strive to get a portion of it. If you don't apply for it, other people are going to. Why should you continue to struggle with the cost of going to college when you don't have to? Wouldn't it be nice to also focus on your studies?

Secondly, it is crucial to understand that every scholarship out there is not meant for every student. Each scholarship is tailored to suit the needs of a particular category of students, and different scholarships offer different benefits. Thus, knowing which scholarship to try for becomes essential to extract the right benefit.

Benefits of a Scholarship

A scholarship is an award that includes offering financial aid to a student to help you pursue your further education. Such awards are offered on the basis of criteria that reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. 

If the world were fair, every student would have a chance to study in the best learning institution irrespective of the costs involved. But the truth is far from that, and that's where scholarship programs come to the aid of academically deserving but financially challenged students.

Focus on the word 'deserving' here. Except for a few programs which could be classified as sort-of reserved, most scholarships award candidates who have excellent grades, or excel at some form of extracurricular activities. So even if you are from a sound background, you have a good chance of earning a scholarship if you're good at what you do.

Here’s an list of the different types of college scholarships:

  1. Merit-based Scholarships: This type of scholarship is based on your academic, athletic, artistic, or other special abilities, and often takes into consideration your community service record and extracurricular activities as well. The most common merit-based scholarships recognize academic achievement or high scores on the ACT and SAT standardized tests.
  1. Need-based Scholarships: Need-based scholarships are awarded as per your family's financial record. If you are a US citizen, you will have to fill up a FAFSA application as well. FAFSA calculates a student's financial need through a standard formula which takes the difference between the cost of attendance at the intended college and the expected family contribution into consideration. Private need-based scholarships also usually require the results of a FAFSA.

Tip: Whatever other scholarships you might be applying for, you should always apply for a few need-based scholarships. If you're resourceful enough to pay for your education in full, you would probably not be bothering with scholarships in the first place. Still, if you need a scholarship at all, you might qualify for a need-based scholarship.

  1. Student-specific Scholarships. These are scholarships where applicants must first qualify by gender, race, religion, family and medical history, or other factors. The most common awards falling in this category are minority scholarships. Also, out of these, all are not based in the US. For instance, students in Canada may qualify for several aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad.

Tip: Though it may feel immoral to use your skin color, religious background, or sexual orientation to your advantage, the fact is that every little bit helps. Nobody ever got a full scholarship without taking advantage of what they had going for them. So if you are a member of any minority, make it work for you.

  1. Career-specific Scholarships. These scholarships are awarded by an institution to students who are planning to pursue a specific field of study. Usually, under this category, the most generous awards are given to those who are pursuing careers in areas of high-need like nursing or education. Nursing students are often in high demand, and many schools give prospective nurses full scholarships to study the field, especially if they intend to work in a high-need community.

Tip: If you want to study teaching or nursing, make sure that your application mentions where you want to work after completing your study. Look for a school or hospital that never seems to have enough teachers or nurses on staff. Even if that's not where you want to spend your entire career, it's a start. At a high need school or hospital, you will develop further skills that you will need to teach or nurse anywhere

  1. Local Scholarships. It is typical for students to look for scholarships in the region they live. Information on such programs can be found by asking local organizations and people. Typically, such local scholarships are less competitive as the eligible population is smaller.

Some sources from where you can gather information about local scholarships include::

  • Guidance counselors: If you're starting to seek out scholarship opportunities, check with your guidance counselors at school. These people can be a reliable resource of information on local scholarships.
  • Non-profit organizations and Charitable trusts: Most non-profit organizations founded scholarships for prospective students at some point in their history. A popular guide to schools in the UK - The Good Schools Guide - states that "Charitable grant-making trusts can help in cases of genuine need." It further outlines several instances where this may be the case, including an "unforeseen family disaster" and a "need for special education."
  • Community foundations: Many counties and cities have local foundations dedicated to offering money in the form of grants and scholarships to deserving students in the area. Some foundations in the United States offer scholarships for Entrepreneurial Endeavors.
  • Music teachers: Several music teachers offer low-price or free lessons to help financially challenged children gain access to arts education. Also, some local non-profits provide free music classes to youths.
  • Labor unions: All major labor unions offer scholarships for their members and their dependent children.
  • Houses of worship: The local house of worship may have scholarships for their members. Also, the religious organization associated with local worships houses may have some available. In such cases, study of theology is highly encouraged.
  • Chamber of commerce: Several chambers of commerce offer grants to students within the community, especially the ones planning on pursuing careers in business and public service. Even if they don't offer any themselves, their members may offer small aid to local students.
  • Other volunteer organizations: Sometimes, organizations offer scholarships or grants to students whose background or chosen field overlaps the organization's domain. For example, local branches of professional societies may help exceptional students of the region. Similarly, charity organizations may offer help, especially if a student's late parent was their member. This kind of scholarship is mostly ad-hoc.
  • PSAT/NMSQT: In the US, high-school juniors are offered the opportunity to take the PSAT/NMSQT test. It helps them to prepare for the SAT later on, and also, awards for National Merit Scholarship programs are decided on the basis of the scores received on the PSAT/NMSQT test. In fact, a few private scholarship programs require that applicants take the PSAT.

Searching for College Scholarships

When it comes to searching for scholarships, you need to make sure you know where you can find them. Some of them are offered locally by high-schools and community businesses, while colleges provide others. You must be accepted to offering schools and colleges before you can apply. You should know that there are regional, state, and even national college scholarships out there. The key to finding them is to see which programs each of these entities has to offer.

Eligibility requirements are essential to pay attention to. That way, you can instantly rule out the programs that you aren't eligible for. It is important not to be easily discouraged at this point, as you will find plenty of programs that you are right for. But do make sure that you search them by topic too. For example, if you're interested in engineering, find the scholarships that are specific to that area of study. If you're economically disadvantaged or belong to a minority, you may also be able to find plenty of scholarships that aren't open to others.

Being well organized is very important too. Otherwise, you're going to end up wasting too much time in your search for college scholarships. You need to keep a list of the keywords you are going to search for; document what you have applied for so that you don’t accidentally do it again. The names and the information may all start to sound too much alike otherwise.

Let other people help you in your search for college scholarships as well. Your parents can ask their employers if anything is offered through them. You can also schedule an appointment to talk with both high school and college counselors. You can search online for scholarships and find great options, eg. Unlimited Lights Scholarship by Unlimited Lights

Also, create a spreadsheet with your findings. Naturally, after going through so many resources, you would have a list of 100 or more scholarships. Don’t panic; having options is always the best. An optimum strategy would be to organize the information you have collected. Use excel or any spreadsheet software to create a clear list of all critical data. You could include columns like the deadline, plan of applying, documents needed, etc. If there are any special requirements for some scholarships, mark them with a different color so that you can see them immediately whenever you access the file. Also, mark the scholarships for which deadlines are approaching.

Assessing your Chances of getting a College Scholarship

Deciding whether or not you should apply for a college scholarship can be difficult. Before assessing your chances of procuring the scholarship, you have to figure if it’s worth applying for that scholarship. 

Find out what the dollar amount is going to be should you win a college scholarship. The money may not be enough for you to justify the process. The level of complexity involved with any college scholarship application also needs to be evaluated. It can work for you, or it can work against you. If there is a great deal of writing and personal elements to cover, it may not be worth the time.

This should be a good starting point to help you decide which scholarships to apply for and what to pass up on. Once you have a list of scholarships you are interested in, the next step is to assess your chances to win each of those scholarships. The ones you believe you do not stand a great chance can be eliminated. 

How likely are you to win a Scholarship?

Several online studies point out that out of every ten undergraduate students, only 1 holds a chance to obtain a scholarship. While there is a misconception that higher grades ensure a student will get awarded, the reality is that even with a GPA of 3.5-4.0, only 19% of students can qualify for obtaining the scholarships offered by different colleges. Although a good profile is essential, test scores like SAT or ACT also increase your chances of getting a scholarship.

Overall, several factors contribute towards you getting the scholarship you want. And knowing what chance you have can help you stay realistic and positive. Here are some aspects you should consider:

  1. What is your current GPA. Now don't panic here; not every college scholarship out there is offered to those with a 4.0 GPA. While a good score is encouraging, it is only one part of the equation. But do make sure you put in your best to increase our overall GPA if there's still a semester or two left of high school. If you have a low GPA, then it is a good idea to include information about why.
  1. What activities have you taken part in at school. Document all the activities in which you took part in school so that you can show your involvement. You want to do the same with community involvement as well. A description of all such activities shows that you are a very well rounded individual. As you go through that list, write a separate area where you put down the skills you have acquired as a part of these activities. This is very important, so don't overlook this information for your college scholarship applications. 
  2. Are you able to perform well in a particular sport. If so, you may want to look into these types of college scholarships as well. There are more requirements, but you can find about them with the various scholarships offered. Being involved in sports can more than make up for a low GPA.

Keeping these stats in mind will further help

  • The number of scholarships available for women is almost four times the number of scholarships available for men.
  • Reserved scholarships based on ethnicity are about 6%. Even so, minority ethnic groups take the benefit of an equal number of scholarships.
  • In comparison to gender and ethnicity, nationality and study area play a more significant role when deciding who to award the scholarship to
  • Generally, about 40% of scholarships have location restrictions (based on citizenship and nationality), 37% have study area restrictions, 6% have ethnicity restrictions, and 5% have gender restrictions.

Now let’s list some of the most common mistakes students usually make when applying for scholarships. These stupid common mistakes will hamper your chances of winning college scholarships.

  1. Don’t miss deadlines. Deadlines are a vital aspect of making sure that you're eligible for a college scholarship. Your application may be the best of the lot, but if it's late, it won't be acknowledged. That's why you need to pay close attention to deadlines.
  2. Don’t apply for only a few scholarships. Try to apply for as many scholarships as you are eligible for; doing so helps increase your odds of bagging at least one of them. Make it a point to apply for at least ten college scholarships, but it is a good idea to do more than that.
  3. Don’t submit without reviewing what is needed. Make sure that you carefully review all the information required for any college scholarship. If you aren't eligible, don't try to fit in; simply pass it up. Don't fill in vague answers and think nobody will notice. You also need to make sure you don't forget the supporting documents. 
  4. Double check what you are sending. Double-check to be sure you have your letters of recommendation and your essay attached. A quick comparison between the guidelines and what you have in the envelope will prevent discrepancies. Every single area of the application needs to be completed. If you skip it at the moment for some reason, make sure you go back to it before marking the application as complete.
  5. See and evaluate EVERY section; write NA if not applicable. Even if a section doesn't apply to you, make it known that you saw it. You can write N/A in that area, put a line through it, or write none. Doing so will indicate that you don't have any relevant information to share here rather than forgot to go back to it. You also want to review the entire application for mistakes carefully. Spelling and grammar problems can negatively impact your college scholarship application and increase the chances of it getting rejected.
  6. Choose your envelope carefully. Carefully place all of the documents into an envelope that is of the appropriate size. You don't want the edges of the documents to be bent when the reviewers remove your application from it. Avoid using staples or folding your materials to get the papers into the envelope. If you need to bind information together, use a paper clip. Ensure that you have the right address and print it clearly on the envelope. It may be a good idea to use a mail method that can confirm delivery so that you know for sure it gets there.

To Conclude

You will likely establish your own methods of searching for college scholarships. That is fine as long as you do have some system in place. Dedicate a certain amount of time each week to looking for new college scholarships.  By taking the time to assess your chances of getting college scholarships fully, you will be able to get more out of your time.

You should also review the criteria for each scholarship and decide if it is worth applying for or not. The search for college scholarships you meet the requirements for can be time-consuming. Make sure you also dedicate plenty of time to filling out the applications and submitting the required information.