Investing in a college education can be expensive, and many high school seniors will choose not to further their studies out of fear of all the college costs and post-graduate debt that comes with an undergraduate degree. As of 2023, the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public college in North America, for example, is $9,678 for in-state students and $27,091 for out-of-state students.
This is where college scholarships can change the game. A college scholarship provides students with financial aid toward their education. Students can apply for scholarships in various ways: through businesses, schools, community foundations, colleges and a number of other ways.
Different Types of College Scholarships
There are a variety of scholarships available for undergraduate students, and not all are related to academic achievement. Some scholarships are solely merit-based scholarships, meaning they aren't based on financial need. Scholarships will also differ depending on whether you're applying for four-year colleges or community colleges.
Some of the types of scholarships offered:
- Academic Scholarships
- Athletic Scholarships
- Community Service Scholarships
- Creative Writing Scholarships
- Government Scholarships
- Religious Scholarships
- Essay Scholarships
- Military Scholarships
How Much Do Scholarships Pay Out?
It is also important to consider the potential payout from different scholarships during your scholarship search, and what kind of scholarship money you may be receiving. As the U.S. Department of Education awards an estimated $46 billion in scholarship money each year, there is a lot of scholarship money out there, and college scholarships can contribute a lot toward education-related expenses.
Scholarships tend to fall into one of two main categories regarding student aid:
- Fully Funded Scholarships
- Partially Funded Scholarships
This means that some scholarships will pay for all of your educational expenses, while partially funded scholarships will cover a portion of the tuition fees, or may only cover living expenses or money for educational resources, such as textbooks. It's essential to choose the right type of scholarship for your financial situation.
Generally, academic and athletic scholarships will provide the most money, and this is due to the level of competition and strict criteria necessary to achieve either of these types of scholarship. For example, an athletic scholarship may cover most or all of your tuition costs, but obtaining one requires an incredibly high standard of athletic performance throughout your time at school, in addition to a grade point average that is up to the standards of the university.
How to Maximize Your Scholarship Opportunities
Each scholarship program will have different eligibility requirements, but the process for applying typically remains the same for high school students looking to pursue post-secondary education.
Considering the prospect of scholarships early in your high school career will enable you to prepare your application and have your academic record in the best possible shape, whilst also allowing you to gain a better understanding of what scholarship committees want in an application.
Applying for scholarships early will give you more time to write your application (if a written submission is required) and a chance to boost your grades and add extra-curriculars to your application.
Make Sure the Fundamentals Are In Order
While each scholarship may have unique criteria for selection, there are some basic requirements that can enhance opportunities for students to be selected, regardless of the scholarship they are applying for.
- Maintain a high grade point average (GPA). Your academic performance and grade point average will undoubtedly be taken into account by scholarship committees. Ensure that you study hard throughout school and use your free time wisely to complete homework and essays on time.
- Participate in extracurricular activities during your time in high school, ideally related to the scholarship. Nevertheless, engaging in any form of co-curricular activity can assist you with your scholarship. It doesn't have to be athletic events. For example, you might participate in a Debate Team or work on the School Newspaper. Alternatively, if you're exceptionally creative and want to demonstrate strong leadership abilities, developing your own after-school club will impress in your scholarship application.
- Cultivate strong connections with your teachers and coaches. This does not imply becoming best friends with your teachers! Simply put, being punctual for lessons, completing your homework, and engaging in lessons will provide your teachers with a positive impression of you. For the majority of scholarship applications, teachers must provide references or letters of recommendation about your performance, so keep this in mind when you don't feel motivated to do your homework.
Decide Which Scholarship Options You Wish to Pursue
The majority of scholarships for students are granted by colleges themselves, often referred to as "institutional scholarships", which universities and colleges offer to high school seniors with strong scholarship applications. Of these, many will be directly related to a student's standardized test scores, so getting a good score on your SAT or ACT can be critical in securing this type of free money.
Private scholarships are another avenue to explore, although some of the larger ones may be more competitive. Numerous prominent companies like Google, Microsoft, Walmart, and Coca-Cola, among others, offer scholarships. Your school might have a list of available scholarship opportunities, so it's worth asking your teachers or counselors and checking your school's website to find scholarships that suit you.
Continue Applying for Scholarships as a College Student
The quest for scholarship opportunities doesn't conclude when you start college. You can still seek scholarships and financial aid throughout your schooling, and many current college students do this to greatly alleviate the financial burdens they face during this time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Scholarships
1. How Can I Improve My Chances of Obtaining a Scholarship?
Take the Application Process Seriously
You should treat applying for scholarships in the same way that you would treat a job. Use your free time wisely to scholarship search, and take care with your applications, paying close attention to details. More time spent working on your scholarship applications and improving your grade point average means that your essay is more likely to stand out, and won’t simply blend in with the rest.
Choose a Scholarship That Works For You
Not every scholarship will be the best fit for you and your personality, so take the time to really look around for scholarships that could apply to your unique traits. Consider your talents, hobbies, future goals, and even your background or gender. There are scholarships related to specific criteria, such as first-generation students or permanent residents of certain states, so spend time browsing and deciding which ones you would have the best chance of receiving.
Get Involved in the Community
Your community involvement can play a big role in determining whether you receive a scholarship or not. Many colleges will take into account your community service and community activities when considering your application, as this highlights your efforts in giving back to your local area. Consider volunteering in shelters or starting fundraisers to help support your community.
2. Are There Scholarships Available for Master's-Level Study or Doctoral-Level Study?
Scholarships are not only limited to college freshmen. If you're looking for a scholarship for Master's-Level Study or Doctoral-Level Study as a graduate student, then there are scholarships available that help to cover college tuition or college costs at this level. Many of these scholarships are also available to international students looking to attend graduate schools.
Scholarships for graduate school students, both in the US and internationally, are offered by a range of universities, such as the Oxford Rhodes Scholarship, as well as government-funded scholarships. There are also many major-specific scholarships available, to both US students and international students. You can find scholarships for Master's-Level Study and Doctoral-Level Study by taking a look at our list of scholarships.
3. Where Can I Find Scholarship Opportunities?
- Local scholarships are a great place to start looking for exclusive scholarship opportunities, and they are often less competitive than national scholarships. Local businesses may provide scholarships, so it may be worth asking your parents or other family members if their company is a scholarship provider.
- Online search engines can help you to find scholarship opportunities, and many websites, including Scholarships.com, help to filter through a range of scholarships to find the best options for you.
- Big corporations, such as Starbucks with their Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Google's Doodle for Google Scholarship, and Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship, through the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, also offer scholarships. The Walmart Scholarship is also a popular example of this kind of scholarship, offering student aid to employees and their children who are high school students. However, these scholarships are often more competitive than local scholarships, and may also depend on whether you will be a full-time college student, but they will typically provide a higher payout for student fees.
4. What are the Key Components of a Compelling Scholarship Application?
Not all scholarships require a written essay, and a no-essay scholarship is an option if that is something you are looking for. However, many scholarship providers will ask you to submit a written application, highlighting why you deserve their scholarship. The financial aid office will consider your application carefully, so it needs to stand out from the crowd.
- Celebrate Your Achievements. Don’t be afraid to talk about different things you have accomplished, whilst remaining clear and concise. Scholarship committees want to know what makes you stand out, so be sure to share your talents, academic achievements, and accomplishments (without bragging, of course).
- Discuss Your Educational Goals. Particularly if you are applying for a scholarship for undergraduate programs, explaining why you want to further your education and what you hope to achieve from college is an essential part of a compelling scholarship application.
- How will you benefit from the scholarship? It’s okay to explain your financial situation in a simple way, and you can clearly state how you would benefit from the scholarship. Remember to highlight why you want to further your education, and how money for college will help you in the future, linking back to your overall career goals.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread! When you think your essay is well-organized and finished, print it out and go through it with a highlighter to spot any grammatical errors or sentences that just don’t flow well. Ask a friend or family member to read your essay too to get their feedback.
- Consider the Application Deadline. You must submit your application on time to stand yourself in good stead amongst the competition, so manage your time well to get your application in before the deadline.
5. Are There Scholarships Specifically for Certain Fields of Study?
There are scholarships available to college students involved in specific fields of study, such as STEM subjects, as well as healthcare and education majors. If you’re obtaining a degree in nursing, teaching, or one of the fields listed above, there will likely be scholarship and financial aid opportunities available to you.
However, other subjects may have scholarship opportunities on offer to help subsidize the cost of attendance or resources, so be sure to check out our Scholarship Database by subject to help you narrow down your search.