The Ultimate FAQ to Applying for Scholarships

College is expensive! Scholarships can help fund up to 100% of your college without needing to repay a single cent. But, sometimes the application process can be cryptic; not everyone knows where to start or how scholarships even work!

This article is the ultimate guide on how to apply for scholarships to help fund your college experience. We are going to talk about what a scholarship is, how long it lasts, and how it differs from a grant; along with the most worthwhile amount of funds you’ll need for school. We’re also going to help make the scholarship application process easier for you by providing details on the best time to apply and information on which scholarships are easier or more difficult to apply for.

By the end of this article, you will know everything about scholarships and know exactly where to start with our list of the best scholarship websites for college students!

Table of Contents

What is a Scholarship?

What is a Scholarship?

We bet you’re thinking—What exactly is a scholarship?

Let’s start with some basic details first.

A scholarship is free money that is awarded to you for merit or accomplishments. Think of it as a gift for all the hard work you’ve done or are capable of doing in the future. The purpose of a scholarship is to alleviate the financial burdens from having to pay the ridiculously high costs of higher education.

Now, what types of merits or accomplishments do scholarships focus on?

The answer is infinite. Scholarships can award accomplishments based on your academic performance, athletic performance, history of overcoming challenges, extent of community engagement or volunteering, or even identity as a historically underrepresented minority student.

Scholarships can also be awarded from diverse sources, including schools, private organizations, foundations, public companies, or even from municipal grants. And, there are scholarships for high school seniors and scholarships for college students.

The requirements for applying to scholarships is pretty straightforward. Most scholarships typically ask for:

  • Basic personal information
  • A narrative about your personal obstacles and academic achievements
  • Your cumulative grade point average (GPA)
  • An outline of what you hope to accomplish after college.
  • Letters of recommendation

They will likely ask for letters of recommendation from advisors, professors who had you for a class or worked with you directly; or a supervisor from your employer who can speak on your behalf. Essentially, the best writers for these are typically people who can speak to your strengths, commitments, and potential for your future career.

Here is a great tip: If you volunteer a lot or have prior employers, make sure to maintain a positive relationship with them to ask them for letters of recommendations once scholarship season comes.

Tips on How to Write an Application for a Scholarship

Now, the personal narrative about your academic achievements and career goals can be difficult. It will take time to think through how you will present yourself in the most succinct, yet thoroughly detailed manner to exude your amazing abilities and passions on paper.

The most basic steps to take are listed below:

  • Read the essay prompt very carefully; make sure you are answering what’s being asked.
  • Tell your story in your own words. You’ve worked so hard for this opportunity to get to college; tell your story thoughtfully with details that are personalized to your life’s experience.
  • Outline your narrative in advance. Ask yourself about what matters to you the most and why. Use these details to guide your essay ideas.
  • Read about the scholarship agency. What is their mission or values? Make sure your scholarship application caters to those details.
  • Prepare in advance. DO NOT MISS THE DEADLINE. Send your scholarship application a week in advance to trouble shoot any problems that may arise from the submission process.
  • Proofread Your Applications. Have a teacher or friend look over your essay to check for grammar errors. It’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes to review your applications!

Here is a resource for more tips on how to write an application for a scholarship.

Here is another resource for samples of scholarship application essays.

You can also reach out to students who were awarded the scholarship to ask for any additional tips or resources that they found helpful in the process. Scholarship agencies usually list names of students who were recently awarded; feel free to reach out to them via email!

Prepping for Scholarship Applications

While these materials may seem straightforward, finding letters of recommendations can be a long-winded process, along with perfecting your essay to sound just right. Make sure you prepare your materials in advance to meet the deadlines for application submissions.

Here are some additional tips to help ease your scholarship application process:

  • Don’t expect to pay anything for a scholarship. Unlike college applications, the application process for a scholarship should not charge for any service. Stay wary of scammers who may try to charge money.
  • Prepare all your materials in time for the due date. Missing a deadline means missing an opportunity; don’t fall into last minute habits.
  • Pay attention to all the details in a scholarship description. The application process for scholarships are not necessarily uniform. One scholarship might ask for an essay and that’s it. Others might ask for a letter of recommendation, unofficial transcripts, and/or a narrative of your professional goals. Make sure you read the description carefully for each one you apply for.
  • Read reviews of others’ experiences with the application process. We recommend joining student associations or reaching out to resources for career development, which sometimes provide you with an overview of how to write applications for a scholarship, how to get materials in time, and how to time-manage for the deadline.

What's the Difference Between a Scholarship and a Grant?

What’s the Difference Between a Scholarship and a Grant?

Firstly, scholarships and grants share a lot of commonalities, so people often use the terms interchangeably. Let’s outline what scholarships and grants have in common before discussing their main differences.

Share in Common

  • Both share the purpose of alleviating financial burdens or fostering your ideas or professional development
  • Both can fund your college or graduate career up to 100%
  • Both are free! You do not need to pay either grant or scholarship back. Some restrictions may apply regarding your enrollment basis (e.g., half-time or full-time status), but the donors will typically reduce your funds accordingly.
  • Both can come from diverse sources

Now, what is the difference between a scholarship and a grant?

The main differences between a scholarship and grant are that each one is awarded to an applicant based on different qualifications, there are different main sources of funding, and both have a completely different application process. Let’s try to unpack these differences with more detail.

Differences Between Scholarship and Grants

Qualifications for Awards. As we mentioned, scholarships award your merit or accomplishments; so, they will often require a certain GPA, certain level of academic ability, etc. Grants are need-based forms of financial aid for college, based on either your personal income or parents’ income. Essentially, the requirements for a scholarship are much more exact than a grant.

Funding Sources. Sources for college grants can definitely vary as much as scholarships. However, grants are usually funded by federal and state government sources of aid; scholarships are not. Grants are also contingent on policies and legislative efforts passed in a given year; while scholarships tend to be more from individual agencies, separate from policies.

Application Process. The application process will look very different for grants and scholarships. Grants will require the following materials:

  • Your parents’ income and history of assets
  • Basic personal information from you and your parents (including social security number)
  • Alien registration if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Federal tax information from W-2 or from your parents if you are a dependent
  • Name of colleges that you plan to or have already applied for

College grants can be applied for using the Office of U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid; while scholarships can be applied using scholarship websites, such as those listed in What are the Best Scholarship Websites.

If you’re still interested in learning more about college grants, here is a resource to start.

What is a Good Amount for a Scholarship?

What is a Good Amount for a Scholarship?

You can be awarded up to $40,000 from scholarships. However, there are lots of ranges in between to win a smaller amount of money, such as $500 or $1000. Don’t write these smaller scholarships off! The trick here is to consider what resources need to be funded to relieve any financial burdens in college.

Here is an example to consider. You may have been awarded $10,000 for tuition and other fees for classes; but you will still need to get materials, such as a laptop, ridiculously expensive textbooks, note-pads, and electronic devices needed for class discussions (e.g., clicker). All this adds up!

Applying for a small amount of $500 in scholarship is a great approach to funding your book expenses and other school materials.

We strongly encourage you to apply for both small and large amounts of money in scholarships to help you succeed. You will learn that higher education is very expensive, but there are plenty of scholarships that have been intentionally designed to help you.

We also want to encourage you to select scholarships based on your qualifications, career goals, and utility. Don’t just pick scholarships based on the largest amount available to you.

Refer to our guide on the best scholarship sites and start making a list of scholarships, from large to small amounts, that fit best with your qualifications. Then, think about what you will use them for. Sometimes, college websites will actually provide you with an estimate of how much they think a full semester would cost a student, taking book expenses, housing and travel into consideration.

When is the Best Time to Apply for Scholarships?

When is the Best Time to Apply for Scholarships?

General scholarship season begin in Fall, Spring and Summer. This means that there are scholarships with deadlines typically by the end of each season. Essentially– lots of opportunity for you to apply!

It’s important to note that deadlines in the Fall will be money for the following school year. So, if you apply for a scholarship in August 2020, those funds would be used for the following school year in August 2021. Take this into consideration when applying for scholarships; you want to start applying at least a year in advance for college.

We recommend you begin in your junior year of high school or at least the beginning of the year you will be graduating high school/entering college.

What are Typically the Easiest Types of Scholarships to Apply For?

What are Typically the Easiest Types of Scholarships to Apply For?

Now, when we say easy types of scholarships, we are referring to the application process. We don’t mean that these scholarships are easy to win, just easy to apply for.

Typically, the easiest types of scholarships to apply for are the ones that don’t ask for very much. Maybe, one might ask for a personal essay, your basic personal information, and you’re done. These usually take about two hours to complete because you’re writing about a specific prompt.

Here’s an additional resource to help you find the best scholarship sites.

Are Harder Scholarships Worth It to Apply For?

Are Harder Scholarships Worth It to Apply For?

Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Apply this concept to harder scholarships. You’ll have to spend more time on your applications, but the payoff is more than worth it.

So, are harder scholarships worth it to apply for?

Absolutely! If you believe you are a great candidate for a particularly competitive scholarship, apply!

Think about what qualifications you might have to make your application competitive. If you have high SAT scores or a high GPA then it is likely you’ll qualify for several of these harder scholarships. While the competition might be high, it is definitely worth applying for because you’ve worked too hard up to this point to fall back now.

How Long Do Scholarships Typically Last For?

How Long Do Scholarships Typically Last For?

Scholarships typically last up to 4 years, covering funds until you complete college. However, this will depend on the type of scholarship you applied for and the amount of funding promised from the agency. Some scholarships might only offer funding for a semester or academic year. Read applications carefully!

It’s important to note that the money for all four years are not automatically given. The scholarship agreement is renewed on a yearly basis after reviewing your school performance within that given year. If you fear having a tough year, then let’s talk about what might happen if you fail.

Do You Have to Pay Back Scholarships If You Fail?

Do You Have to Pay Back Scholarships If You Fail?

Remember in the What is a Scholarship section when we said that scholarships are like a gift for all the hard work you’ve done or are capable of doing in the future? There are free scholarships that you do not have to pay back, no matter what the instance.

However, most scholarships are based on merit and academic performance. You’ll find that many scholarships have specific requirements of maintaining a certain GPA throughout the academic year to consider continuation of funds; so, if you fail, you may be at risk of losing funds.

We want to highlight that sometimes failing a class is not necessarily your fault; you may have been going through a family emergency or other personal challenges. Many scholarship agencies will take these experiences into consideration, particularly when they occur at the same time as a failing grade.

If you find yourself at this point, always communicate with your scholarship agencies at the end of your semester to explain what’s been happening to minimize risks of losing your scholarship entirely.

Are There Scholarships for College Students Too?

Are There Scholarships for College Students Too?

Scholarships can be available to students as young as 5 years old! There are scholarships available for all grade levels, including high school and college. So, even if you are already in college and need more money to fund your tuition or book expenses, there are scholarships designed for applicants like you.

Here is a list of scholarships for high school juniors, seniors, and college students.

Here is another list of scholarships for international students.

What are the Best Scholarship Websites?

What are the Best Scholarship Websites?

Searching for scholarships takes a lot of time and patience. We want you think about scholarships as much as you consider career goals or choices for college. To do this, you’ll need to make sure you find a scholarship website that is dependable and legitimate. Remember to stay wary of scholarship websites that scam you for money!

Let’s first discuss what a helpful and effective scholarship website helps you do. An effective scholarship website will provide you with:

  • Filters to search scholarships
  • Name of the scholarship
  • Affiliated website
  • Amount of funding available
  • Number of awards available
  • The set deadlines for submission

Oftentimes, you may need to register an account with the website to access the list or search; but it should not require any charges to carry out these searches.

Here is a post to the best scholarship websites to start.

Where Can I Find Lists of Scholarships by State?

Where Can I Find Lists of Scholarships by State?

Another way to start filtering your searches for scholarships is by finding lists of scholarships by state. Maybe you don’t expect to go too far for college or already have a set idea on where you’ll end up. To use your time wisely, just start a search for scholarships that are available in that same college’s location.

We’ve written tons of guides on the best scholarships by state. Check them out below:

Wrapping Things Up: Key Takeaways from this Scholarship FAQ Guide

Preparing for finances to cover school is just as important as deciding on which college to attend. We strongly encourage you to apply to as many scholarships you can to get the support you need to pursue your futures.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure you plan ahead of time to get all the materials you need by the application submission deadline. Writing a good personal essay can take a lot of time, finding good letter writers, along with searching through the numerous scholarships available to you. Make sure to use our list of best scholarships websites to ease your anxiety and start finding the ones that work best for you and your accomplishments thus far.

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