Whether you’re about to start as an undergraduate, headed to graduate school, or in the middle of your studies, you might be wondering how can you get scholarships for college education.
You’re asking the right question. Getting a scholarship (or scholarships–you can get more than one!) can help reduce the cost burden of school on your bank account, however, it can also be a complicated process.
When exploring how to pay for college, many students believe that financial aid and student loans are the only options available. While filing your FAFSA forms to apply for need-based financial aid (including grants and work-study programs) is incredibly important, prioritizing applications for merit-based scholarships can help make college even more affordable. Scholarships offer aid that does not need to be paid back, so follow our tips for getting scholarships before accepting federal loan offers.
How Can You Get Scholarships For College?
- Start Your Scholarship Application Early
Just as your college or graduate program application begins long before you submit your statement and transcripts (you can’t get better grades retroactively, after all), your chances of receiving scholarships will be higher if you start thinking about what makes you a desirable applicant as soon as possible—whether that’s while you’re still in your senior year of high school or undergraduate studies.
Different scholarships will consider a variety of variables, but in general, you’ll set yourself up for success by achieving good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, and developing relationships with teachers, professors, and other individuals who can speak well on your behalf.
In addition, many scholarships will require a written submission—so don’t shirk your writing classes. Your skills in writing quickly and efficiently will be useful when completing multiple essays both for your school applications as well as the scholarships.
- Explore College Scholarships
Let’s first talk about scholarship money that comes from colleges. The type of scholarships each college offers will vary, so check with the financial aid office at your school of choice.
“More than 90% of college financial aid is administered by the colleges, which means that most scholarship and grant money comes from the colleges through their aid process,” says Joe Orsolini of College Aid Planners, a consulting group for the college application process.
For example, the University of California (UC) Berkeley, a public school that’s part of the UC system in California, offers an Undergraduate Scholarship to students who meet certain GPA criteria – but the amount awarded will depend on your financial need, which is determined by your inputs on your FAFSA form. Since financial need will be largely based on you and your parent’s income, the only variable you can affect in this case is your grades. On the other hand, a school like Santa Clara University offers several different merit-based scholarships, with predetermined award amounts that will not vary based on financial need.
Most university scholarships will be awarded based on your application to the college and your FAFSA, both of which you’ll need to submit to attend that school in the first place. This is great news because it won’t require extra work on your end to be considered for this free money. Once you’ve maxed out university aid, however, securing private scholarships will require a bit more effort—both to find the scholarships and to apply.
- Look Locally for Private Scholarships
When looking for additional scholarships, start locally for outside private scholarships first; the competition will be lower, boosting your chances of getting the grant. Orsolini, who headed the Chamber of Commerce scholarship program in Lombard, Ill., for several years, says they would normally receive 12-15 applications for two distinct awards. According to these figures, candidates have a one in seven chance of winning, which is far better than one in thousands for something like the Dr. Pepper tuition giveaway.
Begin your search for undergraduates at your high school. Many high schools will include local scholarships on the college part of their website, and your school’s guidance counselors are sure to have some suggestions as well.
For both undergraduate and graduate students, make sure to check your college’s website as they will also be likely to list scholarships that local organizations and alumni have made available to students of the college. If you prefer in-person help, schedule a time to go into your school’s financial aid office to talk through the options.
- Use Scholarship Search Engines to Expand Your Search
Even if you’ve exhausted your local scholarship options, there are plenty more out there. It’s just a matter of choosing which are worth your time. Here are some resources to start your search:
Make careful to filter wisely to locate those for whom you have a strong application. For example, FastWeb displays scholarships by academic year, scholarships for veterans, scholarships for multilingual students, and so on. Make certain that you are just looking for scholarships that match your profile.
Look for scholarships offered by industry associations in your desired career path. Are you a student considering a career in nursing? The National Student Nurses Association Foundation provides undergraduate and graduate nursing scholarships. Are you an electrical engineering graduate student? The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is a good place to start. To summarise, look for scholarships that demand some form of additional certification to apply for to improve your chances.
- Prioritize the Scholarships You’re Seeking
Once you’ve discovered the scholarships you’re eligible for, prioritize them based on characteristics such as the award amount and the amount of effort required to complete the application. You may be able to repurpose the written component of your application in many circumstances; these should be prioritized higher on the list because they will need less time and effort.[inline-quotes]If you can reuse any essays while still adhering to all of the scholarship’s instructions and criteria, do so.[/inline-quotes]
Kevin Ladd, COO of Scholarships.com, urges scholarship applicants to “work hard and smart… If you can reuse any essays while still following all of the directions and rules to the scholarship, do so.”
In addition to the amount of effort required to apply, compare potential scholarships based on the award amount. While it might not be worth writing a five-page essay for a $500 scholarship, a $5,000 one may well deserve some extra effort.
- Continue Applying to Scholarships Throughout College
The search for extra cash to pay for your education does not have to end after freshman year. Many scholarships are available to college students of all ages, so make it a point to set aside time each year to search for and apply for new scholarships. Even if you did a thorough search last year, Ladd adds that new scholarships are always being created. It’s worth checking to see what’s changed since your last visit.
What Types of Scholarships Are Available?
Forty-six percent of students believe that scholarships are only available for individuals with exceptional grades or abilities, according to the Sallie Mae/Ipsos 2022 survey College Confidence: What America Knows About Paying for College. But there are many other types of college scholarships, including:
- Community service. Scholarships are available to students who give back to their communities, like those who volunteer at an animal shelter, participate in local cleaning efforts or host a fundraiser for a nonprofit. The Disabled American Veteran’s Jesse Brown Memorial Youth Scholarship Program, for instance, awards scholarships to students under the age of 21 who assist veterans in the community.
- First-generation students. There are specialized scholarships for those who are the first in their family to attend college. For instance, the majority of scholarship finalists for California nonprofit QuestBridge‘s National College Match program are high-achieving, first-generation students from low-income backgrounds.
- Underrepresented groups. Some scholarships are awarded based on students’ backgrounds. The Gates Scholarship, for example, offers several awards annually to bachelor’s degree-seeking students who are Pell-eligible and from a minority group, which includes those who are African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, and Pacific Islander American or Hispanic American. Applicants should ideally also be in the top 10% of their high school class.
How Do I Apply for College Scholarships?
The process of applying for college scholarships may be different depending on the specific scholarship and its requirements. Students should review a scholarship’s website to learn how to apply, but here are some common steps to follow:
- Check your eligibility.
- File the FAFSA.
- Complete the assigned essay prompt or video assignment.
- Compile required materials such as a school transcript, ID, test scores or letters of recommendation.
- Meet posted deadlines.
To be considered for some scholarships, often a student must only complete the FAFSA. This is the case for many institutional scholarships, such as the Middle-Class Scholarship Program at the University of California and California State University systems.
This scholarship requires no additional forms beyond the FAFSA or the California Dream Act Application for students who don’t have a Social Security number or who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program status. That award helps eligible students cover up to 40% of tuition and fees.
Start early not just looking for scholarships, but also building up your resume and experiences that will make you a desirable applicant. Search strategically and prioritize so that you’re not overwhelmed by the number of applications. Lastly, keep searching each year to maximize the total awards you receive.
With a few days of work each year, you could greatly reduce the cost burden of your undergraduate or graduate education, leaving fewer student loans to deal with once you’ve graduated.
What grades do you need to get a scholarship to Harvard?
Recipients are chosen based on financial need and academic merit. Scholarship applicants must have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.33 or higher. See important information about enrollment status for Special Students in Enrollment Considerations.
What grades do you need to get a scholarship in Canada?
Different scholarships have different eligibility criteria. You have to have a certain GPA to become eligible for a scholarship. In most cases, Canadian universities and colleges ask for a minimum GPA of 3.0 or equivalent grade in your secondary and higher secondary.
Can I get a full free scholarship at Harvard University?
Harvard’s financial aid programs are entirely need-based. There are no merit awards or scholarships, so students will not be able to receive a single Harvard University scholarship that covers the entire cost of their education.