What Is a College Scholarship, and How Do You Qualify?

  • Scholarships are usually based off of merit or athletic achievement, and don’t need to be repaid.
  • You might have to meet certain requirements to keep your scholarship while in school. 
  • You may be able to find scholarships through your school’s financial aid office or private sources.
  • Read more of Insider’s student loan coverage here.

To pay for rising educational expenses, many students are looking for financial assistance — and scholarships are one of the best ways to help cover the cost of college. Scholarships are a type of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. You may be able to get scholarships from schools, employers, individuals, companies, community organizations, and more.

Scholarships will reduce the cost of your education, and the awards range in value. You could receive a few hundred dollars or the full cost of tuition — it all depends on the scholarship’s terms. 

Who qualifies for scholarships?

Some scholarships are aimed at certain groups of people, like women, people of color, or graduate students. They may be one-time awards or recurring money offered throughout your entire time in college.  

You can find more information on every individual scholarship on providers’ websites, including who is eligible and how to apply. 

While scholarships are gift aid, you might have to meet certain requirements during the time you’re in school to keep them. This may including hitting a certain minimum GPA, playing on a sports team, serving as a teacher’s assistant, or working a specific number of hours.  

Where can you look for scholarships?

There are many places to find scholarships and thousands of opportunities available. You should also fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in addition to applying for scholarships. Some colleges require the FAFSA to determine your entire aid package, including scholarships. You can find scholarships:

  • Through your school’s financial aid office
  • By talking to your high school counselor
  • On the Department of Labor’s website
  • By researching community organizations, local businesses, and civic groups
  • Through your state’s financial aid portal
  • By looking for professional groups related to your field of study
  • Using private scholarship services

However, when looking at private scholarships, check with your college to see if it will allow you to stack private scholarships and grants on top of the aid the college offers. Sometimes a college will deduct whatever aid you receive from a private source from the amount of grant or scholarship aid it offers you.  

What are the most common types of scholarships?

While you can get scholarships for reasons such as volunteer experience and club involvement, the most common types of scholarships are based on academic merit or athletic achievement. 

Merit-based scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are usually earned by meeting or exceeding certain academic standards outlined by the scholarship provider. They might be based on your field of study, GPA, ACT or SAT score, or some other academic achievement. Colleges often offer merit-based scholarships to entice high-achieving students to attend their schools.  

Athletic scholarships

Athletic scholarships are often given because of outstanding athletic achievement, and they usually require you to play one or more certain sports to qualify for aid. Standards for athletic scholarships vary depending on the school. Schools may also have varying amounts of money available for specific sports. 

What else should you know about scholarships?

You should apply for scholarships as early as possible; some scholarships have deadlines as early as one year before college starts. Research scholarships during your junior and senior year, taking special note of when you need to submit your application. 

Your scholarship funds may be disbursed to you directly as a check or it might go straight to your school to cover tuition, room and board, or fees. When you’re awarded a scholarship, the organization or individual should let you know how to expect your money. 

While the terms “scholarship” and “grant” are sometimes used interchangeably, they aren’t exactly the same. Scholarships are usually given out based on achievement, while grants are based exclusively on financial need. That’s not always the case — sometimes you might qualify for a scholarship because of financial need — but that’s not the norm. 

Scholarships are a great way to leverage any special talents you may have to get cash for college you don’t need to repay. This will save you money over alternatives like loans