How to Find and Apply for College Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships-and-grants-graphicWritten by: Janet Barger of Credit Union Student Choice

This time of year can be exciting for students getting ready to go to college or return for the next year. And as students go to school, one of the most frequently asked questions is about scholarships and grants – how to find them and how to apply. Well, here’s some information to start you off right!

Scholarships and Grants are great sources to help pay for college. Although they are both considered “free money” since (as long as you meet their individual requirements like GPA, half-time status, etc.) they do not need repaid, there are some details you should be aware of based on the type and source of the money.

What is a Scholarship?

A scholarship is an award a student receives to further his or her post-secondary education. They are awarded based upon various criteria such as grades, community service, athletic or other abilities. Many private and school based scholarship’s eligibility requirements reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is usually not required to be repaid. An example where repayment may be required is in the nursing field. The scholarship is awarded with the stipulation that the recipient work for a designated period of time in a rural or remote community. If that person decides not to work in such a setting, the scholarship would require repayment.

What is a Grant?

A grant is a form of financial aid awarded based on need – meaning your or your family’s financial situation. They may be awarded by the Federal or State Government, school, a company, or foundation. The grant eligibility criteria may include maintaining a minimum GPA and/or state residency. Similar to scholarships, if the criteria are not met, you may have to repay the grant.

How to Increase Your Chances of Receiving a Scholarship or Grant

The best way to increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship is to apply for as many as you are eligible. Also, apply throughout your college career as there are scholarships based on major and grade level and your eligibility may change! Here are the different kinds of assistance – knowing the difference can help give you a leg up on the competition.

  • Some scholarships have a merit-based component like grades (high GPA), ability (sports), and high scores on standardized tests (ACT or SAT). There are merit-based scholarships for artistic ability (vocal performance, writing, visual arts) and for other extracurricular activities (volunteering and community service). Merit-based scholarships are typically awarded by the school and may require an additional application or essay.
  • Financial aid assistance is available at This is a free service offered by Student Choice and supported by education financing professionals:
    1. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Help
    2. Award Letter Review
    3. Financial Aid Questions
  • There are need-based scholarships that are tied to the student and family’s financial record provided in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and awarded based on the results of the formula used to calculate need. Some scholarships are student-specific and have qualifying criteria based on race, religion, gender, etc. (example – Gates Millennium Scholars program).
  • The career-specific scholarships are most often awarded to students who plan to pursue a specific field of study such as nursing or education.
  • Colleges and Universities offer college-specific scholarships which are given on the basis of academic or personal achievement of highly qualified applicants usually resulting in a full-ride to the college (Full Merit Scholarship) or a reduced rate of tuition (tuition discounting).
  • Scholarships are also available from the following. Many times these scholarships are less competitive because the eligible population is smaller and local. All funds are usually sent directly to the school you will be attending so the funds can be used to pay for your tuition, room, board, and other costs.
    • Chambers of Commerce
    • Charitable trusts
    • Churches, synagogues or houses of worship
    • Community foundations
    • Employers – yours or your family’s
    • Foundations
    • Labor/trade unions
    • Non-profits
    • Volunteer organizations

Applying for Scholarships and Grants

Applying for scholarships can be a full-time job so do a little research to determine if you are eligible before applying. Be careful when utilizing organization’s website or scholarship search engines – don’t give out personal data especially if it is a requirement to obtain eligibility criteria. And never pay money to get money – avoid scams!

Utilizing the free resources such as those listed below can provide you with lots of the info you need! Don’t forget to consult with your high school Guidance Counselor, family, friends, teachers, employers and extra-curricular activity leaders (band, choir, yearbook, etc.) to find scholarships. And always remember, the school you plan on attending is a great resource for scholarships and often have a scholarship and grant directory in their office when you visit!

When should you Apply for Scholarships and Grants?

Once you have a list of scholarships for which you want to apply – we recommend you begin looking for scholarships in your junior year of high school – determine what is needed to apply! If a scholarship application requires references or letters of recommendation, make sure you have those ready so you can include them as needed. The best time to ask for references and letters of recommendation is Spring Semester your junior year so you can be assured of having what you need to meet and/or exceed the scholarship application submission deadlines! Your teachers, employer, guidance counselor, and family will appreciate your proactive efforts!

As you complete your application and/or write your essay for each scholarship take a little time and put in a little effort to comply with all the eligibility requirements. To increase your likelihood of being selected follow instructions, meet the deadline, and fully address the essay question. The top 5 mistakes that scholarship applicants make are:

  1. Only Applying for private scholarships – 41 of 50 states offer assistance programs
  2. Applying for too few scholarships – the more you apply, the better your chances
  3. Not following instructions – an easy way for your application to hit the trash
  4. Not paying attention to deadlines – late applications also hit the trash
  5. Looking for Scholarships for only a few weeks – don’t give up, it takes time

We can help you avoid these mistakes! ScholarHelp is available to help you navigate the process, address your questions, review your essays. This is a free service we offer to assist you in your efforts to access and apply for free money to help you pay for college.

Good luck and happy applying!

2 thoughts on “How to Find and Apply for College Scholarships and Grants

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