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The Complete Guide To Scholarships

The Complete Guide To Scholarships

College tuition costs have been soaring throughout the years and will only continue to rise from here. It can be very difficult for a student to get through college and most students have to seek some sort of loan to be able to attend college or university. Fortunately, there are many scholarships awarded to deserving students all the time which provides a great help for students to get fully or partially through their college program. A scholarship can make a world of difference and dictate whether or not a student has a burden of student loans to pay of when finished school.

What is a Scholarship?

Scholarships are gifts of money awarded to students used towards their college or university education. This can be strictly for tuition costs but can also be used for all costs associated with college such as dormitory stays, textbooks etc. Scholarships payments are made toward a students education based on academic achievement or other achievements and talents such as athletic ability. Scholarships are paid in money and do not need to be paid back.

Scholarships are funded by a number of different resources such as government aids, universities and colleges, or any company or organization which aims to reward individuals for their accomplishments. While Scholarships are free there are still some strings attached such as maintaining a specific grade point average, mentoring other students, or excelling well in your sport if you are an athlete.

Many people may think it can be very difficult to obtain a scholarship, and that you may need to have have a perfect GPA etc. This is not always the case. Many scholarships are awarded based on which career path you may be entering. For example there are special scholarships for students aspiring to be doctors, dentists, lawyers etc.

Types of Scholarships

Merit Scholarships

These scholarships are awarded based on academic, athletic, and artistic talents and capabilities. Sometimes merit scholarships consider financial need but that is not usually the case.

Financial Need scholarships

These scholarships are designed to help students who need financial assistance to achieve their academic goals to  attend college or university.There are several factors that are used to determine if you will be awarded a financial need scholarship. Some of these factors include:

  • your financial background
  • your parents financial background
  • the number of students in your household attending college or university
  • cost of living

Difference between Scholarships and Grants and School loans

Many times the terms scholarships and grants are used interchangeably however this is not always the case. There are some similarities between the two terms, with one being the fact that both do no need to be paid back.The biggest difference between the two is the eligibility criteria.


A scholarship is best defined as  a sum of money awarded to a student to pursue and cover the costs of a college or university education. Basically, scholarships are gifts of money for educational purposes which do not need to be paid back.Many scholarships usually (but not always) are merit based. Merit means that the student displays exceptional  academic ability artistic ability or vey good athletic ability. For example to be eligible to receive many scholarships you have to have a very high Grade Point Average. The G.P.A. varies by scholarship type and school however it usually has to be at least 3.7 or higher. Merit based scholarships can cover full costs of tuition, textbooks, room and board, or the partial cost of those expenses.


Grants on the other hand, are funds given to a individual, group, business, education department etc for educational or research purposes. For example, a state government may hand out grants of money to students to cover textbook costs. Grants are not usually based on academic grades but on financial need. Another example of a grant could be the government grants a particular department of a college a sum of money such as the medical department. This sum of money would be used for medical research purposes.

School Loans

Loans for school purposes are a lot different the scholarships and grants. Student loans are given to assist students in college or university expenses such as tuition, textbooks, room and board etc,however these payments must be paid back. Furthermore, interest is charged on these loans and they are usually paid back in a series of payments when they student is finished school. Many students find themselves in a pile of student loan debt when they are finished school which makes it even more important to apply for scholarships and grants to lessen the burden of student loan debt.

Major Categories of Scholarships

There are many different types of scholarships and it is important to explore all your options so you can apply for a wide variety of scholarships based on your needs. The two broad types of scholarships are Merit Based and Need Based. Some other types of scholarships may be a combination of merit and need as well.

However, there are categories of scholarships as well that cover specific interests are areas. You will likely fit into one of these categories.

Merit based Scholarships: We already touched on this earlier explaining how most scholarships are merit based. However there are different variations of merit based scholarships. It important to understand this fully as this is how most scholarships are awarded. Merit based scholarships award students based on academic ability and grades, artistic ability, and athletic ability. If you have an excellent G.P.A you have a good chance of receiving a merit based scholarship especially if you apply to many. Below are some categories for which these scholarships may be awarded:

Academic: These are based on high grades and excelling in all areas of school. Schools look for students with near perfect grades and offer them scholarships. Sometimes they are awarded to students by their high schools without the student even applying for it. Different scholarships will have different criteria for the GPA grades. Some might look at students with a near perfect GPA while some will look at students with a good G.P.A of 3.7 or higher. It all depends on the scholarship and the school.

Demographic: Some scholarships are awarded to specific demographic targets with specific scholarships for single mothers,minorities, racial background, or ethnicity. Usually, these recipients will still need to meet some sort of criteria such as good grades, community involvement etc.

Need Based: Some scholarships are awarded based on any particular needs a student may have. An example of this would be a student who displays a financial aid to help get them to college or university. However this application process isn’t as simple as having a financial need. Many documents which display proof of your financial need will need to be submitted. Many things are factored into the decision such as parents income, how many children they have in school etc. Furthermore, most of the time you still need to have a specific G.P.A. to be considered for the need based scholarship. For example if a student has a poor G.P.A. but has a financial aid need, they still may not be considered because of their grades. This isn’t always the case but at times it is. Need-based scholarships are often called Grants. Read our complete guide to grant aid for more info.

Career/industry: There are different scholarships awarded by businesses and organizations  based on which career path the student is looking to pursue. For example if a student is looking to become a financial major, a financial institution or bank may offer scholarships to this group of students. Another example would be if a student entering the psychology field , a psychologist organization may have a scholarship they award to students with a very high G.P.A. in the field of psychology.

Athletic:These can be very difficult to receive as you really have to be an exceptional athlete to receive an athletic scholarship.Many college and universities will offer ‘full ride’ scholarships to athletes to play for that college’s or university’s sports team. A full ride scholarship means all costs are covered including tuition, textbooks, room and board etc. For example if you are a great basketball player in high school a college will recruit you and offer you a scholarship to play for the school team. The student still has to pick a study field/course and attend classes, and often they must maintain specific grades to be able to play on the school’s team.

Military Scholarships: these are for all the brave men and woman who served time for the USA. There are a plethora of scholarships available to ex military.They are even available to the family members of the ex military such as wives and children.

Home School Scholarships: Homeschooled students should have an equal chance in be awarded a scholarship, especially if they have excelled academically. Fortunately, there are scholarships available to home schooled students. However it can be more difficult as there is no guidance counsellor or anything to assist them. However they can access potential scholarships through any of the scholarships data based websites which are discussed in this article.

Scholarship Sources (Where to Find Scholarships)

There are many different sources which offer scholarships and it does not hurt to apply for more then one. Also, you should never have to pay to find and apply for scholarships as all the information including the application process is always free. Scholarships are made available by the following:

  • the college or university you plan on attending: When you are in your last year of high school research the colleges or universities you plan on attending and apply for scholarships through that school. Contact the admissions office or the financial aid centre of that college or university and seek a list of all the scholarships they offer and how to apply for them. Many universities actually have a set amount of scholarships they will award every year or every semester as they have specific budgets to spend on scholarships.
  • your high school: speak to your high school guidance counsellor about scholarships as many high schools offer merit based scholarships. Some high schools automatically consider students for scholarships based on their grades and athletic ability. Be sure to apply well advance as their are deadlines for which applications will be accepted for review.
  • your employer or even your parents’ employer: Check with your employer to see if they offer scholarships to any of their workers. Burger King for example has a scholarship program for their workers to apply for. Furthermore, your parent’s employers sometimes offer scholarships to their immediate family.
  • foundations and businesses : Many foundations such as religious or church groups offer scholarships to students who are a part of that foundation. In addition, many businesses offer scholarships as it is a good way for them gain exposure and give back to the community. Many financial institutions are known to have scholarships programs that are sponsored by themselves to give back to the community.
  • scholarship database: there are several scholarship databases available which allow you to easily narrow your search for potential scholarships that are waiting to be awarded based on your location, career path and academic ability. Some of the more popular scholarship databases include:, and If you do not know where to start, using one of these websites is a good starting point. You can explore these websites as there are literally thousands of scholarships that can be found. This is a good starting point to begin narrowing your search.
  • Non Profit Scholarships: these scholarships are offered by non profit organizations to a wide variety of reasons to individuals. Many times these are need based scholarships for people who display a financial need to be able to attend school.

How To Find Genuine Scholarships

Unfortunately there have been issues of students falling victim to scholarship scams. Many of these scholarship scams may initially sound legitimate and rewarding however that is not the case. Below are some signs of a potential scholarship scam.

  • they require any sort of payment for applying
  • they make guarantees that you will win some sort of scholarship if you pay a price to apply
  • they request any sort of banking information such as credit card info etc.
  • they state that they will handle the entire application process for you.

Genuine Scholarships do none of the above and never require any type of payments whatsoever. They will never claim to handle the entire application process for you, or make any guarantees you will be awarded one. Genuine scholarships may guide you to the proper scholarships to apply for, but they will not guide you through the entire application process.

Using the sources above educated you on the many sources that offer scholarships, and now it  is time to discover how to find the genuine scholarships that will benefit you the most. While searching for scholarships, make sure it is a well established scholarship program with a good reputation.This is especially true when using the online scholarship databases mentioned earlier in this article. When you come across a scholarship that interests you, there are some steps that should be taken to ensure a smooth process.

  • ensure it is a well established scholarship program: Do some research on the history of the program, and the reputation the scholarship program may have. See how long they have been around. Call or email the program leaders and have them ask any questions you may have.
  • email and get in contact with program leaders: This is very important to get a feel for what they are looking for: This is a very important step as they look for a specific set of talents and skills. One small difference between you and another student can make a huge impact and be the deciding factor of whether or not you are awarded the scholarship. So the more you know about it the better chance you have to receive the scholarship.
  • Discover the application process: regardless of the source of the scholarship it is essential to identify the entire step by step process needed to apply such as grades, past grades, essays, letters of recommendation , community involvement etc

Any scholarship that is offered by your high school are college and university have real genuine scholarship programs, however it is still of importance to get all the information needed to begin the process of applying .

How To Apply For Scholarships

The Application Process

Now that we know the sources and types of scholarships available it is time to began applying for scholarships. Take your time with this process and ensure all information recorded is done informatively and accurately.

The applications process includes preparation, filling out the application with extensive details such as extra curricular activity, letter of recommendation and even writing and essay followed  by preparing for the interview. These many steps are explained in detail below.

When to apply for scholarships

Make sure you apply well in advance as some schools require you to apply one year ahead of time. If you are in your last year of high school you should be actively pursuing and applying to scholarship opportunities.The best time to begin the application process is the time between your junior year and your senior years. It is never to early to start looking and applying. On average the deadline is between 6 months and 1 year ahead of time.

Many first year scholarships have deadlines that coincide with the admissions deadlines so it is wise to submit your application as soon as possible to increase your chance on being chosen.

Preparation for Applying – Tips

There is a lot of preparing and planning that goes into a scholarship and it is ideal to begin over one year in advance.Once you have chosen the potential scholarships you are going to apply for be prepared for everything that will be needed so you will have time to do everything that they require. Have all your current and past grades’ transcripts available as they will definitely need to see them. Next study very hard for the upcoming ACT/SAT tests as this could be the most important factor when determining scholarship award winners.

Extra Curricular Activity

Another important factor to be aware of is extra curricular activity, as they also look for this on the application.Sports are great as it displays values and teamwork and dedication. Focus on extra curricular activities that you have a particular interest in. Not only will it be a better experience for you but it will show on the application that it is something you take pride in.

Also, participating in some community service programs can really look good on an application.

Do some work at the soup kitchen, join Big Brother Big Sisters programs etc. These will look great on your application and show you are a great well rounded person.

Seek Guidance and Advice

When discussing scholarship applications request to look at the applications themselves and see what content they may want on it. Different scholarships weigh things differently. For example, one school may weigh tests scores to a very high level, while another school might hold grades higher then taste scores.You can use this information to possibly narrow your list of scholarships to apply for. Some scholarships also require you to write an essay explaining why you should be awarded the scholarship. Ask to see a sample of an essay that scholarship award winner wrote. This will give you idea for what they are looking for in an essay and really give you an edge when you write your essay.

Tips on writing a eye catching essay:

  • use real life experiences in vivid detail. For example if you did work at the soup kitchen explain the values you implemented and how it changed your mindset of lucky you are not to be in that situation etc.
  • Do not exaggerating in any way as it will be easy to catch on the easy and could hurt you
  • make sure your essay is proof read several times.
Letters of Recommendation

Having a good  letter of recommendation written for you has many advantages and could put you over the top. These letters are written by people who will explain what areas you succeed in and what kind of person you are. These letters are usually written by non family members. Usually  they are written by your current high school teachers, your boss at work or friends of the family.

Select people that have seen you excel in school, in the community or in sports etc. Ensure these people have a good understanding your talents and personality. Furthermore, providing an example of certain accomplishments you have achieved enhance the letter. Lastly, ensure  the person writing your letter of recommendation writes it in great detail.


Not all scholarships require and interview however some of the bigger scholarships require one. This can be quite stressful for the student but if the student is well prepared the interview should go smoothly.Here are some tips for a successful interview.

  • prepare sample questions: Anticipate some of the questions that may be asked such as “why should we award you this scholarship,?”or “explain how you are a good fit,” and “what are some of your weaknesses?’ Have a general knowledge of what you will say in response to these questions.
  • Don’t talk to fast: If you talk to fast during the interview it can come off as nervousness. Plus when you talk fast you tend to ramble and miss saying some of the important parts.
  • Practice with family and friends: Have a family member or friend read you potential interview questions and answer them exactly how you would at the real interview. This will make it seem like a less daunting task if you have practiced mock interviews.
  • Dress well: This goes without saying but obviously it is important to dress in a suit and tie and be well groomed. Same thing goes for the ladies, dress in business attire as you want to make a good impression.
  • Eye Contact: This is another important tip to remember. When you are speaking ensure you are making eye contact to whomever you are talking to. If you are looking down or around the room when talking it shows lack of confidence and can really hurt you.

Scholarships unfortunately, are not for everybody. Also many people that apply for scholarships do not get awarded one. The student may be disappointed but fortunately there are other options to consider when seeking financial assistance for college or university.

Financial Aid Options

Financial aid provides students with funding to allow them to overcome the financial barriers they may encounter when pursuing college or university. It provides funding for such things as tuition, books, and room and board. There are a wide variety of financial aid funding available from the following :

  • Federal government
  • state government
  • colleges and universities
  • private sources

Financial aid includes: grants, loans, scholarships, and other work-study programs.

Financial aid is determined by assessing the financial need of a student. Many factors go into the decision such as how many people are in the family, how may people from the family are in school as well as the family’s income. Financial aid features options in student loans and private student loans, as well as federal work study programs.

A great resource for confused students seeking financial aid can be found at a website called There is an extensive amount of information that can guide you to choosing the best financial aid for you.

Federal Student Loans

Federal Loans offer loans to students in financial need for college or university expenses.These loans are funded by the federal government. These loans offer many benefits such as income based repayment plans which are not seen with private student loans. Furthermore, federal student loans usually have lower interest rates as well as fixed interest rates as they are known to be cheaper then private student loans. With a federal loan, you will not need a co-signer like a private student loan requires. The government provides over $150 million each year on grants, loans and work study programs each year. To apply for a federal loan you must complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid. You can apply and get access to all the information you need on the website. Most students in the United States qualify for these loans, as the loans are not based on how much money the student or their parent makes, rather, it is an equal playing field.

 Private Student Loans

A student private loan is best described as a financing option for students seeking college or university education. These loans should not be a replacement for federal loans. There is interest added on to the payments that will be made.

Some important factor to realize when it comes to these loans is your credit is taken into consideration to decide on the amount of interest will be accrued. There are wide variety of payment options that usually begin when you are finished school however there are some that allow you to begin paying off the loan while you are still in school. Private student loans often come with a 20 year repayment option and the average interest rate sits at 12%.

Where to get a private student loan

The best place to go for a student loan is your bank or financial institution .Your credit will be checked and sometimes you will need a co-signer on the loan for insurance in case you fail to make some payments etc. It is advised to apply for a federal student loan first as there is less interest and lots of different funding available, as the government allocated $150 million per year on grants, loans etc.

Federal / Private Grants

Grant aid is another source of financial aid to go back to school, and often a significant one. Grant money is money that you don’t need to repay, provided you meet the necessary requirements to get that grant and, once you do, fulfill any terms the grant requires you to complete (for some grants).

Read our Complete Guide to Getting Grants for more information about getting grants, including school grants.

Federal Work Study

The Federal work study program is a federally funded program that helps students with the costs associated with college or university. Federal work study provides part time jobs for students in financial need which allows them to earn money needed for school expenses. Here is a breakdown on what the federal work study provides:

  • provides part time employment while you are in school
  • it is available to any student with a financial need
  • it is available to full and part time students
  • it is implemented by your school if they are participating in the Federal Work Study program.Check with you schools guidance counselor to see if your school offers this.

Many of these jobs will be performed within the school however there are some jobs that require you to work for a private non profit organization.

About The Author

Ben Todd

Ben was a seriously broke graduate student with bad credit who after finding himself rejected for any sort of credit card or loan for most of his adult life, finally decided to get his financial life in order. 'He spent several years reading as many financial advice books and blogs as he could.And suprisingly, Ben found he actually LIKED the topic of personal finance; after fixing his own finances, starting his own successful work at home website business, and using his earnings to get out of debt, created to help others do likewise!

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