Let’s get real for a sec.
Navigating the world of scholarships can be confusing!
Whether you’re a first-time applicant or a seasoned searcher, there are always questions to be asked about everything in the name of scholarships.
While many of our blog posts do make a point to answer many of the most common questions related to scholarships, having a singular informative and regularly updated page to refer back to with all of your scholarship queries can’t hurt!
So, without further ado, keep scrolling to learn all about scholarships!
A scholarship is free money that you can earn or win to put towards paying for your higher education. Money that you win from applying to scholarships is, objectively, the best form of financial aid out there, because it does not need to be repaid, ever (if you come across a scholarship that indicates it does need to be repaid, then you have been tricked, and it’s not legit!).
There are scholarships out there for students pursuing all types of degrees. Some scholarships are open to community college students, others are for students going after four-year undergraduate degrees, and others are created specifically for graduate students.
A merit scholarship is one specific type of scholarship that you can apply for. When we’re talking about scholarships, the term ‘merit’ just means that the scholarship is taking into account your academic profile, achievements and abilities, as opposed to your level of financial need.
Most opportunities fall into one of the following three categories:
The process of searching and applying for scholarships is in some ways very similar to the college application process.
Let’s walk through the steps...
Student loans (another way to pay for college) are VERY different from scholarships, for one reason and one reason only: money that you receive through student loans is money that you borrow, and must repay with interest.
This is in complete contrast with scholarships, which do not need to be repaid ever!
According to the IRS, scholarships are not taxable if you meet both of the following conditions:
On the other hand, scholarships are technically taxable (aka, must be included in your gross income) if the money is used or put towards education-related expenses such as room and board, travel, or optional equipment.
In one of the earlier questions’ answers, I mentioned that if an opportunity claims to be a scholarship but makes any mention of having to pay back the winnings, then it’s not a scholarship - it’s a scam!
That is one of the main indicators of a scholarship scam, but there are a few more that you should be aware of as you embark on your scholarship journey.
A scholarship is MOST LIKELY a scam if it…
In general, if you come across a scholarship that seems promising but something just looks ~off~, don’t be afraid to do some investigating into the opportunity before you take the leap and apply.
A few things to look for that scream “I am in fact a legitimate opportunity!” are:
It’s one thing to apply for scholarships, but winning them is a whole different story. Getting a scholarship means you not only found an opportunity that you’re a good fit for, but you also clearly met/exceeded the minimum requirements and proved to the committee through your submissions that you are deserving of the funds.
At the end of the day, applying ≠ winning. Here are a few ways that you can make yourself a competitive applicant, all of which will hopefully lead to you winning some scholarships:
Earlier on in this post, I outlined the 4 key steps in applying for scholarships. If you missed it, scroll up!
Winning a full-ride scholarship is no walk in the park, with the primary reason being that these scholarships are worth a LOT of money!
To be honest, my advice on how to get a full-ride scholarship is not much different from my advice on how to win any other scholarship. Here are the two exceptions.
Some, but not all, full-ride scholarships have some element of financial need involved. This means that you can be more likely to expect an additional essay question along the lines of “Why do you deserve this scholarship?”. If you come across this prompt, make sure you know the right way to answer it (hint: DON’T start your essay with “I deserve this scholarship because…”).
Second, many full-ride scholarships will require finalists to interview with the scholarship committee before being officially selected or not selected for an award. When you apply for full-ride opportunities, be prepared for the interviews.
While the answer to this question largely depends on the question that is being asked, here are a few general tips for writing winning scholarship essays:
If you’ve been lucky enough to have been chosen for a scholarship, congrats!
Now that you’ve won some money, the last thing on your to-do list (at least, it should be on your to-do list) is to write the organization/committee a thank-you letter.
Plymouth State University offers a great resource featuring templates for such letters. Check it out once you’ve won a scholarship, or even before you’ve won one - after all, we’re all about manifesting success over here!
Here are some blog posts (featuring dozens of the best opportunities) to help get you started:
Happy searching + applying!
PS - Have questions about scholarships that you don’t see answered here? Let me know!