Your Guide to College Scholarships

Of all the methods students can use in order to pay for college, scholarships are the most attractive. With a scholarship, students have a set amount of money to use for school, and they’re never required to pay that money back. It’s a gift, and for some students, it can mean the difference between taking out a huge loan for school and emerging from school with no debt at all.

While scholarships should certainly play a role in any student’s school planning, the competition for these pools of money can be fierce, and receiving a scholarship is far from guaranteed. The information provided here may help students understand their choices just a little better, and perhaps make better choices as a result.

A Tight Market

While most, if not all, students should plan to apply for scholarships, few might be awarded these funds, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).




Common Scholarship Providers

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, consulting director of college planning, K-12 at the University of California, San Diego Extension, suggests that private scholarships from small businesses and local charitable organizations aren’t the primary sources for most scholarships. Instead, she suggests that most awards come from larger, more conventional sources, like federal and state governments as well as the colleges themselves.


Types of Scholarships

There’s a huge amount of diversity in the scholarship marketplace. In fact, it’s likely that almost any student could find a scholarship that resonates with some part of his/her life.

Search Local

Even so, it’s advisable for all students to search for, review, and consider every last scholarship opportunity that might be available to them. Some lucky student is bound to be a recipient of each scholarship, and there’s no sense in ignoring a potential source of free funds. A good local search might involve these steps:

Cost to Attend College Chart

Common Scholarship Amounts

While some students believe that a scholarship should help them cover the entire amount of their college education, the amount they’re provided in a typical scholarship could leave them with a significant funding gap. Some scholarships may provide a full ride for the recipient student, but most scholarships are only awarded once, and range in amount from $100 to $10,000. Other scholarships may be distributed periodically to help meet living costs and may require verification of school-related expenses, like receipts for books or proof of rent.

This chart cheats a bit, as the tuition amounts come from 2013, while the scholarship amounts come from 2010. However, evidence suggests that scholarship amounts are growing smaller, not larger, with each year. For example, the NCAA Division I board decided to amend scholarship rates in 2011, making their awards much less generous and much harder to get. It’s a trend other institutions are following as well. The Bright Futures Scholarship in Florida, for example, underwent rule changes in 2013, and experts interviewed by local news suggested that the number of eligible students would be cut by half. It’s a serious problem, and it might make charts like this even grimmer in the future.

Other Options

Just because scholarships are hard to get, and the amounts that students receive might seem paltry compared to the amount needed for school, doesn’t mean that students won’t be able to afford school. In fact, those students who don’t get scholarships have plenty of other options to explore, including federal loans, private loans, and work-study.

If a student really wants to go to school, there’s a way to make it happen, whether or not scholarships are part of the mix.

Ways to Fund College

More Scholarships

General Information