Winning a College Scholarship: Ultimate Guide + Infographic

Winning a College Scholarship: Ultimate Guide + Infographic

As the saying goes, nothing in life is free. In order to find a well-paid, satisfying job, you almost always need to have a college degree. Unfortunately, attaining this level of education involves spending money on tuition and related fees for several years. The average college tuition in the US is about $40,000. This price is enough to terrify even the affluent among us. But for the many young people whose parents cannot afford to pay for their education, the cost is simply too high.

However, there are less expensive options. For example, you can cut costs by attending a public two-year college. For in-state students, the expenses total about $3,500. But a four-year college degree for out-of-state students is, on average, about $32,500. As you can see, the prices differ enormously, and they vary across schools and states.

The cheapest option is to set your sights on a scholarship. Many of these awards are given as prizes to the best students, so you should definitely be proud if you receive one. This article will tell you about different types of awards, show you where to start your scholarship search, and offer many useful resources to help you along the way. The infographics that show you how to prepare your application are meant to be especially helpful.

⚙️ How Do Scholarships Work?

Scholarships are granted by governmental, business, and academic institutions as financial aid to students. They either fund all of a student’s tuition fees or some part of them. Additional support also covers housing expenses and books. This assistance can be based on a student’s merit or need.

When colleges offer merit scholarships to high school students, they use certain criteria to determine which students they should reward with financial aid. The college commission usually inspects scholarship application letters and other documentation to find the strongest candidates.

Students receive a need-based scholarship if they come from low-income families. In these cases, applicants must prove their financial need.

Grants vs. Scholarships: What’s the Difference?

  1. Similarities: Scholarships and grants have a lot in common, especially when compared to loans. The former are given to students to fund their tuition fees and other expenses related to their studies, but are not subject to repayment.
  2. Differences: The difference between a scholarship and a grant lies in the factors that define how the finalist is selected.
    • Scholarships tend to be merit-based. Students who show outstanding achievements in academics, sciences, sports, and other fields usually receive them. This type of funding can also be program-based. In this case, a committee searches for the best candidate to fulfill the needed task.
    • Grants are usually need-based. Students with low income, disadvantages, or certain career aspirations, like teaching in a disenfranchised area, can apply for them.
  3. Points to consider:
    • If you are awarded a need-based grant, and then you receive a scholarship that reduces your need, you may be asked to repay part of the grant.
    • If you discontinue your work on a program funded by your scholarship, you may also need to return the money.
    • Note that, in some cases, both scholarships and grants can be need-based or merit-based.

Types of Scholarships

It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare an application for a scholarship or grant. That is why you should select the ones that best suit your situation and work only on them. You should also consult the eligibility criteria before applying. Below you can read through the list of the most popular types of scholarships for students.

The picture shows a group of students throwing their caps up during their college graduation ceremony.

1. Merit-based. These awards are given to distinguish a student’s abilities. Many focus on academic achievement, but some consider an applicant’s activity outside their school or college, including community service, extracurricular studies, etc. The college is usually the awarding institution, but some private organizations also fund youth education. In the latter case, you likely will be expected to work for that organization after graduation. The following are several examples of merit-based awards:

  • Academic: These scholarships recognize high test scores or academic achievements.
  • Athletic: These awards distinguish exceptional skills in sports. If your college offers you an athletic scholarship, they will pay for your education, but you will have to play for their team. If it is a governmental scholarship, you will perform at the national or international level. Presently, school-based athletic awards are becoming more controversial because of the existing debate about whether colleges should concentrate on academic rather than sportive performance.
  • Creative: These scholarships recognize innovation and originality. They can also be called project-based scholarships. For some, you are given a challenging task that requires you to think outside the box. These contests are not just for students in the Arts; Science programs also offer creative scholarships.

2. Student-specific. These awards are given to students based on their race, gender, religion, family situation, or medical history. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of Indigenous scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad.

  • Ethnic minority scholarships are the most common examples of this type of award. For instance, The Gates Millennium Scholars Program funds college studies for high-achieving African American, Latino, American Indian, and Islander American youth. In Canada, students can apply for numerous indigenous scholarships for in-country and overseas studies.
  • Scholarships for women aim to eliminate gender inequality. For a long time, women had limited or no access to the academic world. The situation has changed, but prejudices remain.
  • Scholarships for students with disabilities help students with physical disabilities and health problems. The families of such people often spend most of their savings on medical treatment and rehabilitation programs, so little money is left to pay for college. These awards are also merit-based, but the competition is among the disabled.
  • “Last dollar” scholarships cover the outstanding amount that needs to be paid after various grants are used. They are provided by governmental and private institutions only after other funding has been awarded. Among other requirements, you are not supposed to have received any loans or other financial aid. Your parents need to have filed their taxes from the previous year.

3. Career-specific. These scholarships are given to students who intend to dedicate themselves to a specific profession or field of study. Students of Education and Nursing degrees receive the most generous funding. Your chances to receive these awards increase if you plan to work in a low-income community.4. College-specific scholarships. Educational institutions offer these awards to students with exceptional academic performance. Some of them impose a “bond” requirement, which means that you will have to work for a specified employer for a certain length of time after you complete your studies. Such job offerings presuppose employment in rural or remote areas. If you don’t follow through with the job commitment, you will be asked to repay the scholarship amount in full.

🕵 Finding a Scholarship: Best Strategies

No one is stopping you from carrying out a random search for funding sources. But there are more productive ways to find a scholarship in 2020. If you need good advice, listen up: local scholarships are the least competitive. Also, it is easier for in-country students to fund their studies since the tuition fees are lower than those for international students. Besides, the government tries to keep the most intelligent youth within the country.

The picture shows a girl sitting at a table in a relaxed position in front of her laptop.

You can also sign up for newsletters from scholarship databases. Select only the most relevant options to your situation or else you will become overwhelmed with emails. Note that you can start the search for a scholarship even before your senior year. If you have already decided what you want to study as a high school junior, start your research for scholarships early before other students begin theirs.

Local Scholarships: How to Find the Best Awards

Most students start their search with prestigious national and international awards. However, we again advise you to start with local scholarships that might prove to be more attainable. Besides, their award amounts are sometimes as competitive as those of national awards.

  1. Analyze the previous awards. Find out which students won last year, who belonged to the scholarship committee, and why they chose the students they did. This information will help you prepare a thoughtful application. You can always approach the commission members with questions about the application instructions, especially if they are part of the school staff.
  2. Ask your guidance counselors any questions you might have. Few students realize how much information on local scholarships is available through their school. The best person to approach is your school counselor. Local entrepreneurs and businesses often like to help students from their hometown. If they intend to provide a scholarship, they always communicate with the school counselor. Moreover, guidance counselors often have a place in their office dedicated to funding opportunities where you can investigate scholarships and their deadlines.
  3. Investigate community-based scholarships. If you follow our advice and start your search early enough, you will have plenty of time to check out all the opportunities available to you. Visit the local chamber of commerce, places of worship, and local businesses. Being proactive and showing interest in organizations and businesses will help you build connections, which can increase your chances of receiving an award. Also, you ask your parents to talk to their employers about any available student scholarships.
  4. Make a strategy to avoid a chaotic search. Use the bottom-up approach. Start with the most local awards, including those available only to students of a specific high school or club. Then, gradually expand your search. Many public schools offer college funding through alumni and sports teams. Continue to widen your net, inspecting your immediate local community (chamber of commerce, Rotary clubs, women’s clubs, etc.). Slowly expand your search to the neighboring communities, counties, and states.

Scholarship Databases

There is no unified, constantly updated source of information about all currently open scholarships. To find one you qualify for, you may need to investigate various sources. Scholarship databases provide access to a wide range of funding available to students graduating in 2021, 2022, and subsequent years. Country-wide and international awards are more competitive, but the prize money is worth the effort. Check out the best scholarship databases below.

  1. Unigo. This resource hosts about 3.6 million currently available scholarships and grants. Here you can create an account and fill in your profile for personalized search results. There is a feature to save the options that piqued your interest for future reference. You can also apply for scholarships directly from the website. 
  2. Niche.com. This is the former College Prowler platform. It is an excellent place to research colleges and funding opportunities. You can search by categories, such as career, major, minority, state, etc. The filter system is user-friendly and intuitively clear. Students select the criteria that match them, and the search engine shows the awards for which they are eligible. 
  3. CollegeBoard.org. This non-profit organization features college-readiness tests and a list of scholarships. It offers a lot of information on financial aid and internships for around 2,200 programs. The database is extensive, so it is critical to enter as many details as possible to obtain the most personalized results. 
  4. Fastweb.com. This is a unique resource that gives you access to thousands of scholarships and other sources of student money. For example, you can find part-time jobs, loans, and even deals and discounts for students. Here you can also find online learning courses and scholarships for them. It is an excellent option for students during these COVID pandemic times. 
  5. SallieMae. This company provides student loans, but it also has an extensive section on scholarships. You can find it in the Graduate School Information tab. The benefit of this website is that it covers all the possible sources of money to pay tuition fees.
  6. Scholarships.com. This resource advertises scholarships and grants, totalling around $19 billion in financial aid. It is one of the largest databases and is updated daily. Like other similar websites, you can create your profile to find the funding for which you are eligible. 
  7. Chegg. Chegg features about 25,000 scholarships. To open the section on financial awards, press the menu button in the top left corner and choose “Scholarships”. You can also search through internships and job offerings. This website offers the option to rent or buy textbooks cheaper than anywhere else.
  8. Moolahspot.com. Moolahspot is exclusively dedicated to scholarship searches. It is not as powerful as other scholarship databases, but it is a good alternative since it offers awards for students of all ages and life situations. The options are both merit-based and need-based.
  9. Scholarship Monkey. In addition to the personalized search and scrollable list of scholarships, this website features searches by keywords. You can also check the latest featured awards. The interface is simple: create a profile, search for awards you qualify for, and save the results.
  10. Peterson’s. These scholarship opportunities amount to $10 billion. In addition, the website offers lots of reference information to organize your search. Adult learners, military, transfer, and international students can also find useful resources on this website. 

📑 Documents You Might Need to Apply for a Scholarship

A successful application depends not only on your merits but also on your ability to properly present yourself and your work. You cannot apply to every scholarship with the same set of documents. The requirements vary, so you’ll have to create a different application for each new award.

The picture shows a light gray folder with documents sorted into numerous cells.

Your principal task is to meet the deadlines and be creative. All the other factors depend on your eligibility. But if you prepare everything at the last minute, the quality of your submission will leave much to be desired. You can write a template of your motivation letter and edit it according to the requirements of each scholarship. Be aware that the most common mistake that renders students ineligible for an award is failing to abide by the word count. Fortunately, some grants don’t require an essay.

Main Documents

  1. Completed application form

Once you have filled it in and verified it, check it over once again. This is where you demonstrate your attention to detail, precision, and ability to follow instructions.

  1. Copy of your passport or ID

As a rule, the first page of your passport is enough unless otherwise indicated. The document must be valid for at least six months after your graduation.

  1. Copies of diplomas or transcripts

You will have to provide the transcripts from the last school you graduated from or the one you are currently attending. This is a photocopy of a document showing the courses you studied and the grades you received. These papers differ at various schools. The main requirement is that the transcripts are signed and stamped by the issuing institution.

Some schools provide this document only upon graduation, but you should be able to obtain preliminary transcripts if you need.

International students need to submit the results of language proficiency tests. Depending on the institution, this is the list of the most commonly accepted tests:

  • English language: IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge
  • Spanish language: DELE
  • French language: DELF (B2 level) or DALF (C1-C2 levels)
  • German language: DSH, OSD, TestDaF
  1. Letter of motivation

This letter is also called a statement of purpose. It explains your objectives for your future education and the reasons you seek funding. The word count is usually specified, but if not, your essay should not exceed 400 words. Never include any misleading information to make your needs look more acute or your results more impressive. Do your best to be creative when stating your reasons for applying to the particular scholarship.

  1. Letter of recommendation

Some awards require two recommendation letters, but for the majority, one will suffice. This document talks about your personal qualities and academic achievements. Ask your teacher, lecturer, or supervisor for a recommendation. If you volunteered or had a part-time job, your employer can write the letter too, if the requirements allow.

  1. CV or resume

The scholarship committee does not want to know your professional experience. They would rather you talk about your studies, hobbies, preferences and interests, social skills, and leadership qualities. You can mention your language proficiency, computer skills, and knowledge of special programs required for your degree. Indicate only your real achievements without unnecessary exaggeration.

  1. Scores in standardized tests

As with any other tests, your scores on the SAT, ACT, GRE, or GPA tests determine the outcome of your academic scholarship application. The higher the mark, the better the chances of being picked by the commission. But certainly, there are other factors that influence their decision.

Additional Documents

  1. Essay. This is not the same as your motivation letter. It is a piece of creative writing in which you dwell on some aspect related to the scholarship. Try to put yourself in the place of the scholarship provider. What would you like to see in an applicant’s essay? Always follow the guidelines and do not write more than requested.
  2. Portfolio. This is a requirement for those applying for art and design degrees. These students usually have specific preliminary education and experience. You are expected to include your artistic projects in this portfolio. This package is as critical as your GPA score in demonstrating your skills.
  3. Financial information from your parents, including their tax returns. Need-based scholarships for college students decline applications from individuals whose parents do not pay taxes. To be eligible for a grant, you’ll need to submit proof of your parents’ annual income and taxes.
  4. Heath evaluation form. If you are an international student, an authorized clinic in your home country must sign this document. If it is written in a language other than English, you’ll have to attach a certified translation. The original documents must be submitted along with the translation.

🏆 Writing a Successful Scholarship Essay: Useful Tips

  • Dedicate the introduction to presenting yourself. Explain your objectives, background, and needs. Scholarship committees ask you to write an essay to learn more about you and evaluate which candidates can achieve more with the money they receive. Explore sample essays on the web. You’ll see that the main idea is to show your community involvement, activity on campus, and hobbies.
  • Before writing the main body, make a note of keywords you should use. What does the scholarship provider look for (leadership skills, creativity, subject matter knowledge, etc.)? Make these keywords appear naturally in your text.
  • Think about your audience. Respect their time by focusing on the given question and avoiding unnecessary deviations.
  • Make your piece of writing unique. Each person has something different to tell. What has been a meaningful moment in your life? Tell the committee about it. Grab the reader’s attention and make them want to learn more.
  • Write in positive statements. If your readers cry during your essay, it does not necessarily mean you’ll get the award. It is essential to keep a positive tone when discussing painful or complicated situations. This habit tells a lot about you as a person.
  • Never neglect to proofread. Grammatical and spelling mistakes are intolerable. There is a lot of correcting software, and you should know how to use it. Moreover, you can ask a friend or relative to read your essay and provide feedback.

👣 Earning a Scholarship in 7 Steps: Infographic

A scholarship is a ticket to a good education and a better life. It is not “free money” given to anyone who asks. Most awards are prestigious and should be perceived as a sign that you are the best among your peers. You will have to work hard to retain this reputation. But for now, we hope that the advice given above will help you get that lucky ticket to higher education.

The infographic contains seven steps that are necessary to earn a scholarship, from focusing on your talents to preparing all the necessary documents.
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