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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Scholarships

By Gen and Kelly Tanabe authors of The Ultimate Scholarship Book and winners of more than $100,000 in scholarships.

Can I apply for a scholarship if I don’t know what college I’m going to attend?

Yes. You can actually start applying for scholarships as early as your freshman year in high school. If you win a scholarship before you know which college you’ll attend, the scholarship organization will either write you a check if you promise to use the money for college or will give you the money when you decide where to go. Don’t wait until your college plans are finalized to apply for scholarships.

Should I have to pay a fee?

In most cases, no. Since scholarships are meant to support students who need funds to pay for college, they shouldn’t require those same students to shell out money. In most cases, scholarships that require a fee, especially a substantial one, are scams. Some organizations require fees of several hundred dollars and guarantee that you’ll win. The reality is that you may win, but your prize will be less than the amount that you paid. Still, there are a handful of scholarships that require a small handling fee, usually $5 or less. Unless you are certain that the organization is legitimate, however, you should not pay a fee.

If I didn’t win a scholarship, can I apply again next year?

Yes. Unless you no longer qualify, you can apply for a scholarship again. However, consider if your application will be dramatically stronger the next time around. Will you have a better academic record, more experience in work or activities or a stronger essay? If you will essentially submit the same application, you will probably be better off spending your time to apply to a different competition.

Can I lose my scholarship once it’s been awarded?

Yes. Most scholarships that are renewable, which means that you win them for more than one year, have requirements for you to keep the award. These can be requirements such as that you continue to attend the same college, maintain a certain GPA or keep the same major. When you win a scholarship, ask the organization what you need to do to maintain your award. In most cases, you’ll need to basically keep the status quo.

Can I apply for scholarships while I’m a college student?

Yes. One of the biggest mistakes that many students make is that they stop applying for scholarships once they graduate from high school. There are literally thousands of scholarships for students in college and even graduate students. Some of these awards are only open to students who are already in college. Your financial aid office and your major’s department are two of the best sources for these kinds of awards.

If I win a scholarship, will my college take away some of my other financial aid?

Maybe. Many colleges require you to report the scholarships that you win and then adjust your financial aid package. For example, if you win a $1,000 scholarship, the college may decrease your financial aid package by $1,000. From your perspective, this probably seems unfair and you may wonder why you should even bother to apply. If your college has this kind of policy, you can ask them to decrease your loan amount instead of grants. In this way, your total financial aid received remains the same, but you will owe less money. It’s better to receive more in scholarships that you don’t have to pay back than in loans that you do.

Can I transfer my scholarship if I go to another school?

Maybe. If the scholarship is from a college, you can only use it at that specific college. If the scholarship is from another organization, you can probably transfer the scholarship with you. It’s important that you contact the awarding organization to ask and make any necessary arrangements.

Should I still bother applying if I don’t have perfect grades?

Yes. There are many scholarships that are based on other criteria besides grades. For example, there are scholarships for criteria such as leadership, public service, art, athletics, theatre and dance. Plus, even for scholarships that are based on grades, oftentimes they are not the most important factor. In other words, most organizations do not want to necessarily give their awards to the students with the highest GPAs. Instead, they seek the students who best fit their selection criteria, which may include other factors like character, motivation, leadership or involvement in activities.

Do all scholarships require an essay?

No, but most do. Essays are the best way for scholarship judges to get to know you beyond your grades, test scores and other data that you provide on your application form. There are some scholarships that don’t require essays, especially ones for art, music or other types of awards that require a portfolio or project instead. For the most part though, scholarships require essays.

Can I win a scholarship if my parents too much?

Yes. There are two types of scholarships: need-based and merit-based. As the name suggests, need-based scholarships are based on your financial need and your parents’ income. However, merit-based scholarships are based on other factors such as academic or extracurricular achievements. Your parents’ income is not a factor for merit-based scholarships.

What is a renewable scholarship?

Renewable scholarships are the best kind because you win the money for more than one year. In other words, a $1,000 renewable scholarship can be worth up to $4,000 if it’s renewable for four years.

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How Do Scholarships Work?

College and university scholarships are a convenient way to pay for an undergraduate degree, but many students are confused about how the whole process works. How is the money awarded and what can you spend it on? What about outside scholarships?

What is a college or university scholarship?

Scholarships are financial aid awards designed to help students pay for an undergraduate degree. Sometimes a scholarship is a one-time check. Other school scholarships are renewable and provide money for students each semester or school year. These awards differ from student loans in that they don’t have to be repaid.

Students might receive the money directly as a check in their name. In other cases, the money is given to the student’s school. In these cases, the student would then pay the school for the difference on any money owed for tuition, fees, room and board. If the scholarships and other forms of financial aid are enough to cover the direct college costs, the excess money is refunded to the student.

How can the money be spent?

Scholarship checks awarded in your name can be spent on anything, but you would be wise to look at this as an investment and not a free pass to splurge on video games or concert tickets. This money is for school expenses. This could mean tuition, but it could also be books, pencils, housing, food (you can’t study on an empty stomach) or even computers and software.

When you receive the scholarship money depends on the scholarship you won. Sometimes you get the money in one chunk before school begins, and in other cases the money is distributed in installments. Sometimes a scholarship may be paid out in the middle of a semester.

Where do they come from?

Scholarships come from a variety of different sources, including clubs, organizations, charities, foundations, businesses, colleges and universities, the government and individuals. Colleges and universities offer financial assistance in the form of merit aid as well, so don’t forget to contact the schools you are considering to see if you qualify for any merit aid.

Who gets scholarships?

Scholarships aren’t awarded just to students with a 4.0 GPA. Each scholarship has its own criteria. Some scholarships are awarded based on need. For others, you must be a member of an organization, be studying a certain field or fit whatever guidelines the group awarding the money decides upon.

Regardless of whether you excel in academics, you should be able to find several scholarships that work for you. There are even scholarships intended for students living in a particular state or town. You can continue to apply for scholarships during your collegiate years all the way up to Ph.D. studies.

Looking for Other Scholarships?

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College and university scholarships are a convenient way to pay for an undergraduate degree, but many students are confused about how the whole process works. How is the money awarded and what can you spend it on? Learn more here.