Scholarships are awards of financial aid for students to be used to further their education. They are given on a wide variety of criteria and, like Grants, they most often reflect the goals and values of the person, foundation, corporation or educational institution funding the scholarship.
The most common types of scholarships are described below; be sure to also visit Where to Find Scholarships and Scholarship Contests (note: often these contests are based more on luck than on talent, so check them out even if you're not good at essays and don't have a high GPA!). You can also find extensive free information - including unusual scholarships for which you may qualify - at Free Scholarships Wiki.
Merit-based: Merit-based scholarships are just what the title implies: they are given in response to something the applicant has “earned” due to a specific accomplishment, talent, or affiliation. They may be based on things such as athletic, academic, artistic or other abilities.
Increasingly, merit-based scholarships are also being given for a student's history of community service and other extracurricular activities. Learn more about service-based scholarships on the Free Scholarships Wiki website. The best known merit-based awards are typically given based on an applicant's academic record and/or scores that the student receives on standardized test such as the SAT's and ACT.
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Update February 2018
Frustrated combing through scholarships that don’t really apply to you? There are so many scholarships out there it’s hard to avoid. But Scholly is an app that has you fill our a profile and then it matches you with relevant scholarships. They have a team that works to keep all information up date (like deadlines that can change without notice!) and it provides some coaching about the whole process as well — including sample essays. We have not found any reviews of the app that we really trust so we can’t give it a total thumbs up, but it could be worth a try. Be aware that it does cost $2.99 per month before you jump in.
Update September 2017 New York State has recently announced the passage of its 2018 state budget and with it the Excelsior Scholarship. This scholarship makes it possible for almost a million students and families with incomes of $100,000 or less to attend two or four year state colleges for free. The scholarship is available to residents of New York attending a SUNY or CUNY two or four year college and taking 30 credits in each calendar year. Students must also live in New York after they graduate for at least the period of time they participate in the program. The program begins this fall (2017) so hop on it if you live in New York or plan to move there. (Note that the income limit will increase to$110,000 and $125,000 respectively in 2018 and 2019.
Update May 2017 Are you good at expressing yourself well and doing it concisely? Well there’s a scholarship for that! And it happens weekly! Zinch is providing weekly scholarships of $1000 to winners of an essay contest. And you con’t have to slave over pages and pages of an essay. Instead, write just three sentences totaling no more than 250 characters in response to a specific topic, or prompt. You’re eligible if you’re a high school senior or a college student. So come on, go for it — especially if you’re good at Tweets! Just search Zinch three sentences and you’re on your way.
News January 2017 Did you know that H&R Block not only can help you with your taxes, but they also run a competition allowing students the chance to win $20,000 scholarships! The contest is open to students in high school financial management classes. It uses an online game to test your skills in real-world money management situations. These skills in crude things like taking care of your expenses, saving and investing your money, retirement issues and more. So you have to look over your bills and pay them on time, save some money for retirement and make investment decisions, take care in managing your credit card use and payment and more. Don’t we wish all high schoolers took such a class! Your teacher needs to register your class and can learn more at the hrblock budget challenge website. $20,000 and some financial skills, not bad!
Update September 2016 While many scholarships have a broad target there are probably more than you realize that are narrowly focused on specific groups of individuals. For example, the Association of Asian Indian Women in Ohio offer a scholarship awarded by the Cleveland Foundation. The award amount varies and is open to applicants who are seniors in high school, who live in Ohio and who are female. The next deadline is April 8, 2017. Also see more scholarships for high school seniors.
Update June 2016
If you are graduating from high school in 2017 you may be able to apply for the Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship. Coca Cola awards annual scholarships totaling more than $3 million, supporting over 1400 college students. The application time period will open in August 2016 and is open to those attending high school in the U.S. It does require a minimum GPA of 3.0 at the end of the student’s junior year. The application period closes in October 2016. There are several awards available to apply for and you can learn more at coca-colascholarsfoundation.org.
News February 2016: New Graduate Scholarships
Stanford University has received an unprecedented cash donation of $400 million dollars. It will use the money to fund the new Knight-Hennessey Scholars program. With additional donations received prior to the formal announcement today, the total comes to $750 million. This is the largest fully endowed scholarship in the world. The program will admit 100 outstanding students each year, and each will receive funding for three years of full tuition and living expenses. Universities must nominate candidates, so you can't just apply. The intent of the program is to work on solving major global problems while taking a multidisciplinary course designed for these Scholars which includes leadership, problem solving, design and innovation. Stanford will begin accepting applications in the summer of 2017 and the first students will begin in the fall of 2018.
New Scholarships for Top Schools
A relatively new company called BridgeQuest is helping the top colleges and universities find students typically under represented at their schools. These include minorities and those who live in less populated areas. Often schools can only afford to send recruiters to the big cities to find students. That means many very talented students - especially those without a lot of money for school - miss out on big scholarships to great schools. Now that is changing. BridgeQuest has a broad network of recruiters on the lookout for these students and they also allow students to apply online for major scholarships. You could be one of them! Check out more information in our September 2015 Free Money Newsletter.
High School Seniors: Think all your time and energy needs to go into applying for college? Think again! You also need to pay for it, and the “easy path” of government loans could buy you a boat load of debt when you graduate. There are plenty of scholarships you could win – without being at the top of your class. Discover more about Scholarships for High School Seniors.
More for High School Seniors: Don’t be a turkey — consider this scholarship! If you are a hunting enthusiast and a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation, you could be eligible for a scholarship of $10,000. The next deadline for the award is January of 2017. It’s for high school seniors who support the hunting tradition and who participate in hunting and related sports. You should also show evidence of abilities in leadership along with involvement in your community and particularly in areas related to conservation
Need-based: Need-based awards also reflect their name: they are awarded based on the financial situation of the student and his or her family. Like many other student-oriented sources of financial support, they require applicants to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA, to qualify if the scholarship is a federal award. Need-based scholarships which are not federal but are given by a private school, foundation, or corporation will also often require the completion of a FAFSA. This application which determines a student's financial need through a specific formula that considers the student's finances as well the the contribution that might reasonably be expected from the family. Of course it also considers the cost of attending the specific college in question.
Student-specific: Student-specific scholarships are awarded based on qualification by some speicific affliation, such as gender, religion, race, family history, medical information, and many other factors specific to individuals. Scholarships for targeted minority groups are the best known types of awards of this type.
For Women: Beyond the government sources of financial aid for students there are many grants provided by non-profits and private foundations. We detail many of them in Grants for Women. Some are focused on specific areas of study, others are for women returning to school or trying to further their education while supporting a family – and more!
Career-specific: Sometimes colleges and philanthropic organizations will offer scholarships in order to encourage and assist students following a particular career path or field of study. The largest scholarships are frequently given to students advancing careers for critical fields such as education or nursing. These scholarships may specify that awardees must work for a particular employer for a specified period of time, or they may have to work in rural or remote areas (think of the TV show “Northern Exposure”!; if they don't meet that requirement they have to repay the support they have received. Those who give these types of scholarships may be a branch of the U. S. Military. An example current in February 2016 is scholarships being offered for seniors in public high school who will focus their education in the field of human health The $3000 awards are being offered by Hawthorn Medical Associates. The scholarships are being offered to students in specific high schools in Massachusetts. Areas of study can include a wide variety of health related disciplines including - but not limited to - nursing, pre-med, respiratory therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy and more. Learn more at hawthornmed.com.
For a thorough and current guide to available scholarships you might want to check out the book pictured on the left. It will give you information on thousands of scholarships, grants, and prizes. Better yet it comes highly recommended by readers and could save you lots of time searching for scholarships.
For all types of scholarships all students should be sure to check their own individual state for grant and scholarship opportunities. States often offer many financial resources. You can also find more detail in our growing number of articles regarding grants in specific states. That list currently includes grants in California, grants in Florida, grants in New York and grants in Texas.
Scholarship Trends 2014 And Beyond
Some experts predict that in 10 years or so we will have far fewer college grads than our workforce requires. As a result, many companies and private foundations that give out scholarships are putting more emphasis on specific majors. Some examples include those that pertain to the automobile industry, majors that are relevant to our increasingly technology-based society such as the “STEM” fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
Some scholarship providers are also offering multi-year scholarships, so students don’t risk running out of funding and having to drop out before they graduate.
There are also positive signs that those who provide scholarships are more willing to include consideration of students who wish to control costs by spending their first year or two at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution.
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