Paying for college is one of the most critical and potentially prohibitive aspects of the college admissions process, and it’s easy for students and their families to feel lost and overwhelmed by the enormity of the expenses.
While student loans are one of the predominant ways to fund college expenses, there are also countless student loan opportunities out there. The key difference between student loans and scholarships is that scholarships do not have to be paid back, making them an ideal way to pay for college.
This is our hub for scholarship and grant resources, which we encourage you to share with your students. Below, we’ll take a deeper dive into some additional information and helpful tips for finding scholarships and winning scholarship money.
Scholarship types and amounts vary broadly, but many are easy to apply for and can make a monumental difference in educational costs.
There are countless different types of scholarships, and even more ways to break down and categorize them! Here are just some of the most common ways scholarships are categorized and searchable.
Types of Scholarships
These types of scholarships, that span all subjects and industries, are awarded to students based on merit—meaning their achievements. These achievements can be academic, extracurricular, interpersonal, etc. A student may be eligible for a merit-based scholarship, for example, based on their GPA, leadership, or other skills.
Like merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships vary broadly when it comes to amount and source. However, they're awarded based on financial need, which your students will likely have to prove by providing their own or their parents'/guardians' tax information or similar.
University scholarships are scholarships awarded directly by the college or university a student is applying to, and are often (but not always) included in the financial aid award letter a student receives after completing a FAFSA.
Scholarships that come directly from colleges and universities can be need-based, merit-based, talent-based, or otherwise specific to the particular school. Often, they have names like “Dean’s Scholarship” or “University Scholarship” and they vary greatly in amount by school.
In order to receive school-specific scholarships, students must fill out a FAFSA application, which will also enable them to receive federal grants and loans.
In terms of money that borrowers don’t have to pay back, the federal government doesn’t award scholarships via FAFSA. They do award several types of need-based federal-grants that don’t require repayment, but not scholarships, per se.
That said, there are a number of different types of scholarship programs funded through federal agencies that students can apply for outside of the FAFSA application.
You can read more about some of the best and most common types of federal scholarships, but here are a few examples:
- The Dell Scholars Program - offers a $20k need-based scholarship to students who demonstrate leadership and aptitude beyond their academic records
- ACS Scholars Program - offers scholarships to underrepresented minority students majoring in chemistry or related fields
- AAIA Scholarship - offers merit-based financial assistance to Native American and Alaskan Native students in tribes both federally recognized and not
We’re not exaggerating when we say that there’s a scholarship out there for pretty much every specific attribute or demographic out there. There are scholarships for being a woman, part of the LGBTQ+ community, playing cello, having a first-responder parent, being a first-generation college student, and even being tall!
This is a great piece on all of the different scholarship categories out there, and on brainstorming a list of unique attributes to increase the chances of winning more scholarships.
Overall, stress to your students that for every unique attribute of theirs, there is almost certainly a scholarship out there for it!
There are a number of scholarships offered specifically to those students who choose to enlist in the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Navy. There are also scholarships out there for students with military or veteran parents.
This is a great resource on the many military scholarships available.
Create scholarships are any scholarships offered for artist ability or aptitude. For example, there are scholarships for students who play musical instruments, do theatre, paint, make films, write poetry, and so on. These scholarships are sometimes offered directly through colleges and universities, and other times through private organizations. Your students may have to provide some manner of creative media or portfolio to be eligible.
Athletic scholarships are most commonly offered through colleges and universities themselves (and often involve an intensive scouting process for student-athletes). That said, there are plenty of other scholarships related to participation in sports, namely in leadership roles. Students can search for these types of scholarships by individual sport or in general.
Here’s an extensive list of athletic scholarships, some through specific colleges and some not.
These are scholarships awarded to students pursuing specific career paths, for example, nursing or education. Some are more specific than others (e.g. scholarships for women who intend to major in Chemistry) and others are more broad (e.g. scholarships for anyone who considers themselves pre-law). In particular, there are more scholarships that ever for students who plan to enter STEM-related programs, so encourage your students to search for these if they're interested in going this route.
"DACA" stands for the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" immigration act, and DACA scholarships are for those undocumented students who fit the DACA parameters. Here are some DACA scholarships that are currently available, including the Dream.Us Opportunity Scholarship.
Full-ride scholarships are any type of scholarship that covers the entire cost of college expenses, sometimes even including expenses like housing and books. Full-ride scholarships can be limited to one year or they can be renewable annually.
There are plenty of big, well-known, full-ride scholarship programs like the Microsoft Tuition Scholarship or the Gates Scholarship, but many lesser-known, full-rides are cropping up too, so students should be on the lookout for them.
International Student Scholarships
There are all kinds of international student scholarships, including general ones for students studying abroad in the United States, and ones for students from specific countries. There are also plenty of scholarships available to students from the United States who wish to attend college overseas. One of the most well-known and prestigious programs for American students who wish to study abroad is the Fulbright program, but there are many others as well.
Magoosh's Scholarship and Grant Resource Hub
Our scholarships and grants page includes an overview of the difference between grants and scholarships, a long list of our favorite scholarship and grant search platforms (including those related to test scores), and tips about scholarship eligibility.
The Federal Student Aid Resource Page
The Federal Student Aid Scholarship resource page includes a super helpful list of scholarship search tools, like the one from the U.S Department of Labor. This page also includes tips and FAQs about applying for scholarship, both federal and private.
FastWeb stands for "financial aid search through the web" and is one of the most extensive free scholarship search engines. It also provides information about student loans, internships, college jobs, and more.
The College Board
The College Board is a non-profit organization that helps students connect to all kinds of college readiness resources and is the creator of the SAT and AP examinations. The College Board page has its own free scholarship search database, as well as their proprietary CSS profile, an online application for non-federal student aid, including scholarships. You can learn more about the College Board here.
College Financial Aid Offices
Encourage your students to talk directly with a financial aid officer at each of the schools they are interested in applying to, even after they've applied and received a financial award letter. Schools can sometimes drum up more scholarship money for financially eligible and academically impressive students.
Scholarship Winning Tips
This is one of the best, most thorough overviews of scholarship winning tips we've found, and we suggest that you share it with your students. Below are some top highlights you can stress to them.
Student should gather all of their necessary materials for scholarship applications ahead of time so they're not scrambling to meet deadlines. Every scholarship application is different, but these materials typically include: personal information, transcripts, letters of recommendation, a completed FAFSA, parents' tax returns, and so on.
Cast a Wide Net
Encourage your students to apply for many scholarships, even ones that they believe are long-shots, and even those with smaller award amounts. The small scholarships add up and can end up making a huge difference in educational cost!
Apply Early and Often
In addition to applying for many scholarships, students should also apply to them as early as possible. This will ensure that they don't rush their application materials and that they put their best foot forward. Also, make sure your students know that they can apply for scholarships all year-round, even once they're in college!
Go Above and Beyond
Encourage your students to provide anything "supplemental" or "optional" on their scholarship applications. For example, a scholarship essay, a letter of recommendation, etc. The more vivid and unique a picture they can paint of themselves, the better.
Write a Strong Scholarship Essay
Many (but not all) scholarships include a short essay component, and a strong essay can increase a student's chances of winning dramatically. You can read about some of the best tips for writing a scholarship essay here.
Overall, reassure your students that there is PLENTY of scholarship money to go around, and that scholarships can help them fund a good deal of their education!