What You Need to Know About Scholarships

Scholarships are free money for college — unlike student loans, students do not have to pay them back with interest.

However, there are more things to know about scholarships than the fact that they help make college more affordable.

For instance, some scholarships are from the US government, while others are from colleges themselves.

However, there are also scholarships that prospective and current college students may apply for that come from external sources such as private companies and non-profit organizations.

Scholarship Types

College scholarships come in different forms.

They vary from one another based on where the scholarship money comes from and which types of students are eligible to receive them to help pay for college.

Scholarships by source:

  • Federal – Federal scholarships, as the name suggests, are scholarships from the federal government. Most federal scholarships are awarded based on a student’s financial need, while there are also those that are awarded based on one’s chosen program or major. Other scholarships that come from the government are state scholarships.
  • Institutional – Institutional scholarships are scholarships awarded by colleges and universities. They are also sometimes referred to as non-federal scholarships, although not all non-federal scholarships come from academic institutions. The vast majority of free-ride scholarships, which are very rare, are institutional scholarships.
  • Private – Private scholarships are scholarships that come from sources other than the US government and postsecondary institutions. Some of them include private companies, local businesses and non-profit organizations. Private scholarships are also sometimes referred to as external scholarships or third-party scholarships.

Scholarships by eligibility requirement:

  • Need-based – Need-based scholarships are awarded based on a student’s demonstrated financial need. So, in other words, they are designed for college students from low-income backgrounds. While most need-based scholarships are from the federal government, some of them are also from colleges and private scholarship providers.
  • Merit-based – Merit-based scholarships are awarded according to the academic performance or achievement of a student. Some scholarships based on merit are given according to talent, athletics and extracurricular participation. Most merit-based scholarships come from academic institutions and third-party scholarship sources.

Can You Qualify for Different Scholarship Types at the Same Time?

Yes, you can absolutely win different scholarship awards from different sources at the same time, all of which you can use to pay for college.

However, it’s not unlikely for the amount of your federal or institutional scholarship to be adjusted by your school if you receive a private scholarship award — such is what’s referred to as a scholarship displacement.

Scholarship Application

Scholarship applications can vary from one program to the other. It’s of utmost importance to follow a particular college scholarship provider’s application process correctly to be eligible to receive free money from it.

Applying for federal scholarships and grants starts with filling out the FAFSA form.

In many instances, submitting the FAFSA form is also the way to apply for institutional scholarships, the kinds awarded by academic institutions themselves.

A lot of colleges and universities use the information in a student’s FAFSA in order to determine whether or not he or she is eligible to receive institutional aid.

Some institutions of higher education require students to create and complete a CSS Profile to apply for institutional aid. But there are colleges, too, that have their proprietary scholarship application forms.

As with private scholarship providers, the vast majority of them have their own application processes.

Scholarship Requirements

Requirements to qualify for college scholarships can vary, depending on the source of the money that students can use to pay for their undergraduate degree pursuit.

Some scholarship providers simply require students to fill out a form and meet minimum requirements, while others require students to submit all kinds of documents or materials.

Different scholarship providers, of course, require students to meet different criteria in order for them to be eligible to apply and, ultimately, qualify to receive free college money.

Some requirements common among various college scholarships include:

  • Be a US citizen or a permanent resident
  • Must be enrolled at least half-time (or 6 credits per semester)
  • Have financial need or meet the minimum GPA requirement

It’s not uncommon for many private scholarships to require applicants to submit additional requirements other than a completed application form.

For instance, some of them may require the submission of a scholarship essay about a provided topic, while others may require the submission of a portfolio of one’s body of artistic, creative or professional work.

Scholarship Deadline

The deadline for college scholarship applications can differ from one scholarship program to the other.

It’s important for a student to submit a completed application form and other materials (if required) to be eligible to get an award or package.

When it comes to filing the FAFSA for federal financial aid application, the deadline is June 30.

However, since most types of aid from the federal government can run out, particularly scholarships and grants, it’s a good idea for a student to fill out and submit the FAFSA form as soon as possible after it becomes available.

It’s important to note that the deadline for the FAFSA submission is earlier for institutional and state levels — the college deadline is usually before the start of the academic year, while the state deadline can vary from state to state.

The deadline for the submission of the CSS Profile, which is used by over 400 colleges and universities and private scholarship providers, too, can vary.

Most of the time, however, the deadline is between January 1 and March 31.

Needless to say, it’s a must for students to determine the exact CSS Profile deadline to be eligible for institutional or private scholarships.

Speaking of which, applications for private scholarships can vary tremendously as well. For instance, some of them may require applicants to submit the completed form before they graduate from high school.

Scholarship Disbursement

The distribution of scholarship awards to the recipient is referred to as scholarship disbursement.

How the money is disbursed, whether directly to the student or the student’s billing account, can vary from one scholarship source to the other.

In most instances, the package is sent directly to the college rather than the student’s personal bank account.

Federal and institutional scholarship money goes straight to the account office of the college that the awardee attends, which can keep the student from using the award for other things than college-related ones.

Some private scholarship providers, meanwhile, may hand the check to the student.

In most instances, scholarship money disbursed straight to the student’s pocket can be used for various things other than tuition and fees and other college expenses.

Still, the terms and conditions as to how a private scholarship awardee can use the cash award can vary from source to source.

When it comes to when and how often scholarship disbursement is done, it can vary as well.

Usually, scholarships from the federal and state government as well as colleges and universities are disbursed twice every academic year, prior to the start of each semester.

It’s not unlikely for some institutional scholarships and private scholarships, too, to be disbursed once a year, at the start of each academic year.

Can the Award be Rescinded?

Certain types of scholarships require you to continue meeting certain requirements throughout the academic year, such as keeping your GPA at a particular level or staying enrolled at least half-time, in order for you to remain in the program.

Failure to meet the requirements can cause your scholarship award to be taken away at any given time.

Scholarship Renewal

Typically, scholarships have to be renewed every year, particularly programs or packages that are not automatically set to renew themselves each time.

Similarly, college students must meet eligibility requirements whenever they renew their scholarships — otherwise, they will not be eligible for that particular year even though they were the previous year.

It goes without saying that renewing one’s scholarship program, be it from the US government or the academic institution being attended, calls for the filling out of the application all over again.

However, usually, the student’s application form simply has to be updated.

Any changes in the financial situation of the family can cause the amount of money a student is eligible for to change from the previous award year, which is why updating the application form is a requirement by scholarship providers.

Some types of scholarships, unfortunately, are non-renewable — they are good for one academic year only. In most cases, non-renewable scholarship awards are from private or external sources, although it’s possible for a student to reapply for the same scholarship program and win the award money if he or she is eligible to receive it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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