Zina Kumok Image Written By: Zina Kumok | Edited By: Kevin Ladd | Updated: July 2, 2024

Undergraduate Scholarships

In 2023, the average annual cost of college ranged from $11,260 for a four-year public in-state school to $41,540 for a private four-year school.

  • Private Undergraduate Schools have more discretion as to how much financial aid they may award and to whom. For some students, a private college will actually be the better choice.
  • Contrary to the above statistics, some students will find it isn't necessarily less expensive to attend a public college than to go to a private one.
  • Attending a community college while you figure out what you want to major in and getting some required courses out of the way can save you tens of thousands of dollars.

Every year, millions of students in the United States enroll in college for the first time. It’s an exciting time for most - but for many, the cost of attendance looms large. Undergraduate scholarships can help to address these concerns, but finding financial aid can be quite challenging, to say the least.

Scholarships don't have to be paid back and can be used to cover tuition, fees, room and board and sometimes more. Unfortunately, finding these opportunities can feel just as complicated as getting into college in the first place.

Undergraduate scholarships can be given on the basis of need or merit. Need-based scholarships will take the student’s financial situation into account, while merit-based scholarships will look at the student’s acheivements; which will typically be based on their academic, athletic or artistic record. Extracurricular activity and accomplishments may also be weighed.

How to get scholarships in the USA for undergraduate studies

If you're interested in a scholarship, visit the scholarship provider's official website and read the eligibility section first. This will determine if you meet the basic criteria, which typically includes factors like school year, planned major, demonstrated financial need, first generation college student, race, ethnicity, extracurricular activities and more.

If you're eligible, you can move on to the scholarship requirement portion, which describes what you need to submit in order to complete the application. This will usually include a transcript, essay or personal statement and at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher, coach or another adult who knows you well. Some scholarships may also require additional essays, a portfolio or a video. It all depends on the specific scholarship.

3 institutional undergraduate scholarships to consider

There are some great scholarships offered by colleges and universities, ranging from a few thousand dollars all the way to full-tuition and even full-ride scholarships. Here are a few examples for your consideration.

  1. ASU's Next Generation Service Corps program is an incredible opportunity and worth well over $100,000 toward your education. The Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC) at Arizona State University pioneers a unique four-year leadership development program, with a two-year track for Transfer Students. FAFSA is required and you need to complete three internships of 70 hours or more each, as well as attending two mandatory events per semester.
  2. UC Davis offers merit-based scholarships for undergraduate students ranging from $100 to $14,000 per year. No FAFSA is required for these scholarships.
  3. The Vanderbilt University Ingram Scholarship challenges students to create and implement substantial service projects in the community. Ingram Scholars receive full-tuition, all required fees, and the value of on-campus housing each year plus a stipend for a special summer service project.

Many schools will require that students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for any institutional scholarships, as many of them will require demonstration of financial need.

Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible, regardless of your situation.

  • You cannot apply for subsidized loans unless you complete the FAFSA.
  • Many students and their families mistakenly assume they won't benefit from completing the FAFSA and get locked out of the benefits of doing so, only to find out when it is too late.

Many states have their own scholarship system that requires either the FAFSA or a separate application. Some schools have one singular application that will grant you access to multiple scholarship opportunities, while other schools require a separate application for each scholarship.

The FAFSA has to be completed every year that you want financial aid. FAFSA results can change every year, depending on your and your family’s financial situation.

How to qualify for an undergraduate scholarship

The most basic requirement is submitting your application by the deadline and ensuring you have included everything that is required. If there is a personal statement or other essay(s) required, make sure you adhere strictly to the word/character count and answer the prompt. Basically, follow instructions to the letter and don't turn your application in late.

Many scholarships require that students are U.S. citizens and have a Social Security Number, but not all scholarships require this. You must also usually have a high school degree, but some scholarships will accept a GED or equivalent.

Undergraduate scholarship FAQs

Whether you’re a current or prospective undergraduate student, there’s a lot to understand about these types of scholarships. Here are some of the most popular questions:

Can any grade level apply for an undergraduate scholarship?

Not quite. To apply for undergraduate scholarships, you need to be among these three types of students/prospective students:

  1. A high school student who will be attending college after graduation (you don't need to be a senior for all, but you will for most)
  2. A high school graduate who is not currently enrolled
  3. A current undergraduate student

The majority of them will, in fact, be targeting high school seniors, but there are plenty of the other variety, too.

What's the best place to find undergraduate scholarships?

Third-party resources like our Scholarship Directory are a great place to start. While many undergraduate scholarships are open to almost all students, you can also filter undergraduate scholarships by skills, gender, ethnicity, hobbies and more. This can help you find unique scholarships that you’re most suited for.

Even if you're not attending school locally, you may be able to qualify for scholarships and grants from your own state. Visit your state's department or board of education and see what you’re eligible for.

Can two-year students apply for undergraduate scholarships?

Community college students are absolutely eligible for a numnber of undergraduate scholarships. For example, the Texas Urban Scholarship is available to both two-year and four-year students. The Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Program awards scholarships exclusively for two-year students.

Private, non-profite colleges cost literally ten times per credit hour what it costs to take classes at a commmunity college.

If you are concerned about how you will pay for your post-secondary education, you should definitely be considering community college for at least the first two years of college.

More and more Community Colleges are offering Bachelor's degrees, which means many students might consider spending their full undergraduate career there, saving money for grad school or purchasing a home.

Community college students may also be eligible for state grants.

For example, the Texas Urban Scholarship is available to both two- and four-year students. Community college students can receive up to $700. You must have demonstrated financial need to be eligible, and you must be from one of 43 specific Texas cities, including Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Houston.

The Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Program awards scholarships exclusively for two-year students. Awards range from $1,000 to $1,500 and 200 scholarships will be given out each year.

Community college students may also be eligible for state grants, but they usually have to be attending school locally to qualify.

5 need-based scholarships to review

  1. Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
    Up to $165,000 for transfer students over up to three years completing their Bachelor's degree.
  2. NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program
    Up to $80,000 for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are committed to careers in biomedical, behavioral, and social science health-related research.
  3. Voyager Scholarship, The Obama-Chesky Scholarship for Public Service
    The Voyager Scholarship was created by the Obamas and Brian Chesky, Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb. This is a "last dollar" scholarship for up to $25,000.
  4. Fund for Education Abroad Scholarships
    This foundation provides scholarships and ongoing support to students who are under-represented in the U.S. study abroad population and is worth $10,000.
  5. Mi Future Educator Fellowship
    The MI Future Educator Fellowship will offer $10,000 scholarship to up to 2,500 future educators every year.

When can I start looking for undergraduate scholarships?

There’s an old proverb that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

It is never too early to begin learning about, searching and even applying for scholarships for college

  • In middle school, you can begin researching types of scholarships and common requirements. You will be WAY ahead of your peers.
  • As early as freshman year in high school, there will be scholarships you can (and probably should) apply for.
  • Throughout high school and your undergraduate years in college you will be able to find and qualify for scholarships that could ultimately save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While you need to be at least a high school junior for many, if you look hard enough, you may find a scholarship or two that accepts younger applicants; even high school freshmen in some cases.

Do I have to know where I’m going to school to apply for undergraduate scholarships?

One of the biggest hang ups that high school students have is thinking they need to know where they’re going to school to apply for scholarships. But that’s simply a myth. You don’t have to be accepted anywhere to apply and even win a scholarship.

However, in terms of scholarship eligibility, it often matters where you attend school. For instance, some scholarships are only available for students from certain states or who are attending specific types of universities.

Let’s say you win a scholarship that is only given to students attending a Texas school, but you ultimately decide to go to the University of Southern California. In this case, you’ll have to give up your award. When applying for any kind of scholarship, double-check and make sure you understand all the rules and limitations.

Continue reading the article below the scholarship list.

25 Undergraduate Scholarships with Approaching Deadlines

Can you negotiate undergraduate scholarships?

Negotiating more money from a third-party organization can be tricky. Those amounts are often set in stone.

However, you might have better luck with your school’s own financial aid department. When you apply to a school, they’ll send you an award letter, which spells out all the financial aid you’ll receive. This includes grants, scholarships, work-study and student loans.

If you receive the letter and realize you’re still coming up short, you can file an appeal and request more money. However, this isn’t like your normal negotiation strategy. You need to demonstrate that you deserve more funds because of financial need.

For example, if one of your parents recently lost their job, that won’t be reflected on the most recent FAFSA application. However, you can mention this in your appeal and say that your parent’s financial situation has now changed dramatically. Being specific in your appeal can help you get the money you need.

Can I get an undergraduate scholarship if I already have a degree?

If you already have a bachelor’s or associate’s degree and are going back to school, you may have a harder time getting a scholarship. That’s because many undergraduate scholarship providers only give out awards if you don’t already have a degree.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to get a scholarship - it just means you need to fully understand the rules and limits before filling out a scholarship application. Also, some schools may still be willing to give you an internal scholarship if you meet their criteria. When applying, make sure to compare financial aid offers carefully.

However, other types of financial aid can be trickier if you have already graduated with a degree or attended college before. Federal financial aid is often limited, either by a certain number of semesters or a funding amount. For example, you can only receive Pell Grants for 12 semesters total and if you have not already received a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

Also, federal student loans are limited to $31,000 or $57,500 for undergraduate students (the amount varies depending on if you’re a dependent or independent student). If you have already used up that amount, then you won’t be eligible for more funding.

I don’t have a 4.0 GPA - can I still qualify for an undergraduate scholarship?

In a competitive college landscape, it’s easy to think that you need to be a standout student to even have a hope of winning a scholarship. Fortunately, that’s simply not true.

Most scholarships ask for a minimum 3.0 GPA, but that depends on the specific organization. Some organizations may ask for a 3.5 GPA, while others are fine with a 2.5.

For example, the Chuck Peacock Memorial Scholarship is awarded to students who are studying aviation management. Students only need to have a 2.5 GPA to qualify. This scholarship is worth $1,000.

Can I renew an undergraduate scholarship?

What’s better than winning a scholarship? Knowing that it will be renewed for multiple years. Many undergraduate scholarships are given with the stipulation that they can be renewed for several years, often for four years total.

However, students usually have to follow some basic rules, like maintaining a certain GPA. Most scholarships require that you can keep a 3.0 GPA. If your GPA drops below 3.0, then you may lose your funding. Also, not taking enough credit hours can potentially cause problems.

If your scholarship is related to a particular major, then dropping that major may also result in you losing that scholarship. Running into disciplinary problems can also result in a scholarship loss.

Once you lose a scholarship, it’s hard to get it back - even if you meet the criteria again.

How do I improve my chances of winning an undergraduate scholarship?

The best way would be to outwork your competition and utilize the tools you have available to you. There are plenty of scholarships out there, but being aware of them, when they are due, the requirements of each... that is up to you.

Keep your finger on the pulse of the living, breathing database that is out there and use your time wisely. During any given week, be aware of your top three to five scholarships you want to apply for. Set reminders on your phone to apply before the deadline passes and add notes reminding you of what you need to submit along with the application so you have those documents ready.

To organize your scholarship search, create a spreadsheet where you write down each scholarship, the deadline, application requirements and website links. If you have to write an essay, you can also link directly to the essay from your spreadsheet.

You might be surprised at the kind of scholarships you can find once you start looking. For example, the Cyber Security Scholarship is only available to students who are from a rural area and who are interested in cyber security. Students will receive $1,000, as well as free cyber security training courses.

What are the easiest undergraduate scholarships to apply for?

When you’re a busy student, finding the time to fill out endless scholarship applications and ask for letters of recommendation might seem impossible.

There are some scholarships that have no essay requirements, so they’re popular with time-strapped students. These easy scholarship applications usually only take a few minutes.

For example, the $2,000 Sallie Mae Scholarship is available once a month and students only need to answer five simple questions to apply. Winners are selected via sweepstakes.

You don’t want these to be the only type of scholarship you apply for though. The competition is so high that you’re unlikely to win. Think of these scholarships like dessert - you should sprinkle them in among your regular, more dense and time-consuming applications.