A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further their education. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is not required to be repaid.
This article primarily addresses scholarships in North America.
Scholarships vs. grants
While the terms are frequently used interchangeably, there is a difference. Scholarships may have a financial need component but rely on other criteria as well.
Academic Scholarships typically use a minimum Grade Point Average or standardized test score such as the ACT or SAT to select awardees.
Athletic Scholarships are generally based on athletic performance of a student and used as a tool to recruit high-performing athletes for their school's athletic teams.
Merit Scholarships can be based on a number of criteria, including performance in a particular school subject or even club participation or community service.
Grants, however, are offered based exclusively on financial need and determined using the applicant's FAFSA information.
The most common scholarships may be classified as:
Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's academic, artistic, athletic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's extracurricular activities and community service record. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, recognize academic achievement or high scores on standardized tests. Most such merit-based scholarships are paid directly by the institution the student attends, rather than issued directly to the student.
Need-based: Some private need-based awards are confusingly called scholarships, and require the results of a FAFSA (the family's EFC). However, scholarships are often merit-based, while grants tend to be need-based.
Student-specific: These are scholarships for which applicants must initially qualify based upon gender, race, religion, family, and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. Minority scholarships are the most common awards in this category. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad. The Gates Millennium Scholars program is another minority scholarship funded by Bill and Melinda Gates for excellent African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander American and Latino students who enroll in college.
Career-specific: These are scholarships a college or university awards to students who plan to pursue a specific field of study. Often, the most generous awards to students who pursue careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing. Many schools in the United States give future nurses full scholarships to enter the field, especially if the student intends to work in a high-need community.
Athletic: Awarded to students with exceptional skill in a sport. Often this is so that the student will be available to attend the school or college and play the sport on their team, although in some countries government funded sports scholarships are available, allowing scholarship holders to train for international representation. School-based athletics scholarships can be controversial, as some believe that awarding scholarship money for athletic rather than academic or intellectual purposes is not in the institution's best interest.
Brand Scholarships: These scholarships are sponsored by a brand that is trying to gain attention to their brand, or a cause. Sometimes these scholarships are referred to as branded scholarships. The Miss America beauty pageant is the most famous example of a brand scholarship.
Creative Contest Scholarships: These scholarships are awarded to students based on a creative submission. Contest scholarships are also called mini project based scholarships where students can submit entries based on unique and innovative ideas.
Of increasing interest in the United States are "last dollar" scholarships. These can be provided by private and government-based institutions, and are intended to cover the remaining fees charged to a student after the various grants are taken into account. To prohibit institutions from taking last dollar scholarships into account, and thereby removing other sources of funding, these scholarships are not offered until after financial aid has been offered in the form of a letter. Furthermore, last dollar scholarships may require families to have filed taxes for the most recent year; received their other sources of financial aid; and not yet received loans.
It is typical for people to find scholarships in their home regions. Information on these can be found by asking local institutions and organizations. Typically, these are less competitive as the eligible population is smaller.
Guidance counselors: When starting to explore scholarship opportunities, most high school students check with their guidance counselors. They can be a reliable resource for local scholarships.
Non-profits and charitable trusts: Most non-profit organizations have at some point of their history founded scholarships for prospective students. The Good Schools Guide, a guide to schools in the UK, states "Charitable grant-making trusts can help in cases of genuine need," and goes on to outline several instances where this may be the case, including an "unforeseen family disaster" and a "need for special education".
Community foundations: Many counties and cities and regions have a local foundation dedicated to giving money in the form of grants and scholarships to people and organizations in the area.
Music teachers: Some music teachers offer reduced-cost or free lessons to help low-income children gain access to an arts education. In addition, some local non-profits provide free music classes to youths.
Foundations: Certain foundations in the United States offer scholarships for entrepreneurial endeavors.
Labor/trade unions: Major unions often offer scholarships for members and their dependent children.
Houses of worship: The local house of worship may or may not have any scholarships for their members, but the religious organization or headquarters may have some available. Theology study is highly encouraged.
Chamber of commerce: Many chambers of commerce offer (usually small) grants to students in the community, especially those planning on careers in business and public service. Even if they do not offer any themselves, one can usually get a listing of members, and many of them may offer small scholarships to local students.
Other volunteer organizations: Many organizations offer scholarships or award grants to students whose background or chosen field overlaps the field of the organization. For example, local chapters of professional societies may help the studies of exceptionally distinguished students of the region. Similarly, charity organizations may offer help, especially if the late parent of the student was a member of the organization (e.g., a Masonic lodge might help the orphan of a lodge brother.) This kind of scholarship is mostly ad hoc.
School: Old, well-known schools are often endowed with scholarship funds.
University: Old, well-established universities may have funds to finance the studies of extremely talented students of little means. Eligibility often requires that a student belong to some special category or be among a nation's best. However, universities provide information on scholarships and grants, possibly even internship opportunities.
PSAT/NMSQT: In the United States, students are offered the opportunity to take the PSAT/NMSQT test, usually in their junior year of high school. National Merit Scholarship programs are initially determined by the scores received on the PSAT/NMSQT test. Some private scholarship programs require applicants to take the PSAT. The test can be used as preparation for the SAT.
Disabilities: Students with disabilities may be able to apply for awards intended for people with disabilities. Those scholarships may be intended for disabled students in general, or in relation to a specific disability.