The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (2023)

  • Both grants and scholarships offer free money to incoming and current college students.
  • Grants are generally based on financial need, whereas most scholarships are based on merit.
  • Popular federal grants for college include the Pell Grant and the TEACH Grant.
  • All students should file the FAFSA to see if they're eligible for federal and institutional aid.

College scholarships and grants allow students to pay for their degrees while avoiding hefty out-of-pocket costs. According to data from Sallie Mae, scholarships and grants covered 25% of students' college costs in 2020-21. That same year, about 7 in 10 families relied on scholarships and grants to fund a student's education.

In this guide, we present an overview of college scholarships and grants, including eligibility requirements and strategies for finding the best opportunities for you.

Grant vs. Scholarship: How Do They Differ?

Although both scholarships and grants award free money that does not need to be repaid, there are some key differences between the two.

Grants are typically awarded by federal and state governments. They're also usually allocated based on financial need instead of merit. One well-known example is the Pell Grant, which is given to undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. Students can apply for college grants by simply filing the FAFSA.

Scholarships, in contrast, are given out by various entities, such as nonprofits, employers, foundations, schools, religious institutions, and professional organizations. These gifts require separate applications and are usually awarded based on merit. Factors influencing scholarship decisions may include GPA and grades, SAT or ACT scores, extracurricular activities, and an essay.

Many scholarships target specific student populations, such as certain majors, women, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups.

The 3 Types of Grants for College Students

The main types of grants for college students are federal grants, state grants, and special grants.

1. Federal Grants

The U.S. Department of Education offers grants to certain student populations. Qualifications typically include financial need and a specific field of study.

  • Federal Pell Grant: Undergraduates who demonstrate financial need and do not already hold a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree may qualify for the Pell Grant. The maximum award amount for the 2021-22 school year is $6,495.
  • TEACH Grant: Unlike other grants, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant requires recipients to enroll in specific classes. Students must also commit to teaching full time for at least four years after graduating college.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Undergraduates who are under the age of 24 and whose parent or guardian died in Iraq or Afghanistan due to military service may qualify for a Service Grant. The maximum award amount is the same as that for the Pell Grant.

2. State Grants

States often set aside grant money for residents who wish to earn a college degree. Because states create their own stipulations, however, eligibility and awards may vary. Contact your state department of education to learn more about available grants for college students.

3. Special Grants

Other grants include special fellowship programs geared toward specific fields of study and/or certain student populations. For instance, the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship awards both summer and academic-year grant money to students studying specific regions and languages.

What Types of College Scholarships Are Available?

Scholarship providers vary widely. Students can contact their school's financial aid department to learn more about available options. Here are some of the most common types of scholarships for college students.

The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (1) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (2)

Academic Scholarships

Students who earn high SAT/ACT scores and/or maintain a certain minimum GPA in high school — often a 3.0-3.5 — may qualify for merit-based scholarships.

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The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (3) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (4)

Demographic Scholarships

Demographic scholarships target underrepresented student populations, such as students of color, women, and LGBTQ+ students. These programs aim to promote diversity on campuses and elevate education levels in certain communities.

The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (5) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (6)

Athletic Scholarships

Students who exhibit physical prowess and strong athletic abilities can pursue athletic scholarships. Many of these target specific sports, such as basketball, football, and volleyball

The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (7) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (8)

Creative Scholarships

Aspiring artists in fields like music, the fine arts, and the performing arts can apply for creative scholarships, which typically require a portfolio or performance along with an application.

The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (9) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (10)

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Community Service Scholarships

Students with extensive volunteer experience can apply for scholarships based on community service and impact. Leadership positions are especially important.

The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (11) The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (12)

Talent and Hobby Scholarships:

Some of the more unique scholarships for college focus on students' talents and hobbies. For example, you may be asked to create a prom dress out of duct tape or make a greeting card.

Academic and athletic scholarships often provide the biggest awards. That said, students with exceptional creative abilities may qualify for full-ride scholarships at some institutions.

Students can also receive sizable scholarships from their community. Local businesses may invest in college-bound students. Similarly, community organizations like foundations and civic groups often set aside funds for students studying fields related to their cause.

Another option is religious institutions, though these scholarship programs may require you to be a member of the organization. Working students can also talk to their companies about employer sponsorship for college.

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The Student's Guide to Scholarships and Grants | BestColleges (14)

How to Find and Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Your high school guidance counselor or academic advisor can offer valuable advice on finding scholarships and grants to apply for.

To apply for federal grants, all you need to do is file the FAFSA. Students should also consider local organizations, membership associations, and charitable foundations, which usually provide guidelines and links for available college grants on their websites.

While federal student aid is a great starting point, finding scholarships for college requires due diligence. You can start with BestColleges' compilation of scholarships based on demographic and major. Other websites, such as Fastweb and Cappex, maintain more extensive lists of scholarships for college students.

Current undergraduates seeking scholarships should contact their financial aid department to ask about institutional scholarships. Filling out the FAFSA and CSS Profile (if required by your school) can also lead to scholarship opportunities.

Note that while grants normally just require you to fill out the FAFSA, merit-based scholarships tend to come with their own applications. Merit-based scholarship applications may call for transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.

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How to Raise Your Chances of Getting a Scholarship

Students need to consider their academic background, strengths, and weaknesses to identify the best scholarship opportunities for them. For example, if you have a low GPA, you may want to focus on need-based scholarships rather than merit-based scholarships.

Putting together a list of potential scholarships and organizing them by their deadlines can help you with time management so that you don't miss any due dates.

Finally, applying for local scholarships can increase your chances of winning money, especially if you hold membership in or actively engage with the organization.

Frequently Asked Questions About Scholarships and Grants

When should you apply for scholarships and grants?

Grants and scholarships come from multiple providers and therefore vary in their deadlines. With federal and state grants, make sure you file the FAFSA as soon as possible when it is available each year on October 1. For scholarships, check with the scholarship provider to see when the application is due. Some scholarships are available throughout the year, while others maintain hard deadlines.

Can scholarships affect financial aid?

External scholarships may affect your eligibility for financial aid or lower the total amount of money you receive from a school. At Cornell University, for instance, external scholarships will reduce the starting amount in loans and/or work-study you receive from the school. Check with your institution to learn more about its financial aid policies and the role outside scholarships play in student aid packages.

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How many scholarships and grants can you get for college?

Generally speaking, there is no hard limit for the number of scholarships and grants you can get for college. Nevertheless, if the combined scholarship and grant money exceeds your school's cost of attendance, you may see a reduction in your award amount. Be sure to check your institution's policy on scholarships and aid.

What can you use scholarships and grants for?

College scholarships and grants typically specify how students can use the money. Some providers may allow students to use their funds for living and transportation expenses, whereas others may only apply the funds toward tuition and fees.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.

Feature Image: Mariia Reshetniak / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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Do you have to pay back a scholarship? ›

Unlike student loans, you don't have to pay these back – they're essentially free money.

What grades do you need for a scholarship UK? ›

When Do You Apply for a Scholarship?
  • The student must have an offer to study at the desired university.
  • The student must have chosen the university as their firm or insurance choice.
  • The students family income needs to be below £30,000.
  • Predicted A level grades of ABB or higher.
1 Apr 2021

How can I get scholarship in UK? ›

You can visit the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website to find out more about the funding available if you are studying in the UK as a postgraduate student, including whether or not you are eligible to apply for a scholarship. Just scroll down to the relevant section of the webpage.

What are the easiest scholarships to get? ›

Top easy scholarships in 2022
  • $10,000 “No Essay” Scholarship.
  • $2,000 Nitro College Scholarship – No Essay.
  • $2,500 Christian Connector Scholarship.
  • $5,000 Graduate School Scholarship.
  • $2,000 College Repayment Grant.
  • Annual Protestant Faith Based College Scholarship.
  • Annual Catholic College Scholarship.

Can you keep leftover scholarship money? ›

What happens to leftover scholarship money. If you earned scholarships and grants that amount to more than your total cost of attendance, your school may send you a refund of the leftover scholarship money. Keep in mind, you may have to pay taxes on that amount.

How do I prepare my child for scholarships? ›

  1. Encourage your child to participate in activities outside the classroom. ...
  2. Start the scholarship search early. ...
  3. Block off time for the scholarship search. ...
  4. Use free scholarship search sites. ...
  5. Check with your employer. ...
  6. Don't ignore scholarships with smaller award amounts. ...
  7. Have your child write one really good essay.

How hard is it to get a full scholarship in the UK? ›

Most international students strive to qualify for a full scholarship. Full UK scholarships cover not only your tuition fees but also living costs. They are extremely difficult to get as you need to be one of the top performing students in order to qualify for a full scholarship.

Which country is best for full free scholarship? ›

Germany. A particularly popular country for admission among students from all over the world. No wonder: In Germany almost all universities are free of charge and the country's largest scholarship fund — DAAD — provides a scholarship to cover living expenses.

Which university in UK gives full scholarship? ›

The University of Westminster in London have two main scholarships for undergraduate students: Westminster Undergraduate High Achiever Awards and Westminster Undergraduate Full Scholarships.

What is the best place to begin looking for scholarships? ›

Try these free sources of information about scholarships:
  • the financial aid office at a college or career school.
  • a high school or TRIO counselor.
  • the U.S. Department of Labor's FREE scholarship search tool.
  • federal agencies.
  • your state grant agency.
  • your library's reference section.

What is the highest GPA to get a scholarship? ›

One of the most common grade point average requirements is a 3.0 average. (Again, every scholarship provider is different and it's up to them to set their eligibility criteria, not us.) While some scholarships are based on a student's GPA, most scholarship aren't only about a student's GPA.

Who is most likely to get a scholarship? ›

Learners with a 3.5 or higher GPA (17%) are the most likely to receive private scholarships, followed by those with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.4 (13.1%), 2.5 to 2.9 (10.4%), 2.0 to 2.4 (8.3%), and less than 2.0 (7%) (Kantrowitz, 2019).

What is the lowest GPA to get a scholarship? ›

Some scholarship committees only consider applicants whose GPA meets a certain threshold. Minimum requirements range from around 2.0 on the lower end to 3.75 or higher for competitive academic scholarships. Generally speaking, a 3.0 GPA or higher will give you a decent shot at qualifying for a variety of scholarships.

What is the most difficult part of looking for scholarships? ›

According to most of my students, one of the hardest parts of applying for scholarships is finding appropriate scholarships to apply to. It's easy to become overwhelmed with all the scholarships and scams out there.

Can I buy a laptop with scholarship money? ›

If you received grant or scholarship money to attend college, you may be able to purchase a laptop with your funds. Some financial aid packages include a stipend specifically reserved for laptops, books, and other school-related expenses. Federal Pell Grants can also be used to purchase laptops (in a roundabout way).

Can I buy a car with scholarship money? ›

Some scholarships may allow you to put the money towards transportation costs on campus. But, having a car is not one of them. You might feel tempted to use your scholarship money for personal expenses. But remember, when you win a scholarship, you are signing a contract with the scholarship provider.

What happens to your scholarships if you don't go to college? ›

Many times if the student has not enrolled in classes during those 12 months, it expires. In almost all cases, scholarships are put directly towards your college's tuition and expenses, rather than a check sent to you. If you choose not to go to school, it will not be put in a savings account for later use.

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Scholarship is financial aid provided to a student on a certain basis, usually primarily academic merit. They can be based on several eligibility criteria such ...

How to Get a Full Scholarship › student-info › how-get-... › student-info › how-get-...
Full scholarships (also called full-ride scholarships) are the holy grail of funding opportunities, covering almost everything for the full three or four years ...

What happens after you win a scholarship? ›

Once you have won a scholarship, you are required to report it to the college you plan to attend. The school then reassesses the financial aid package. Basically, when a student wins a scholarship, they become less “needy,” which means they do not need as much financial aid.

Do scholarships cover all 4 years? ›

Full-tuition scholarships are the holy grail of college scholarships- prizes that will cover the majority of your college costs for four years. These scholarship awards can cover tuition costs to all of your living expenses, depending on the terms determined by the provider.

How is a scholarship paid out? ›

Most students and parents assume scholarship awards are sent directly to the college or university that will be attended. While some scholarships do work that way (especially institutional scholarships), a significant portion actually sends the money directly to the student who won.

What happens to your scholarships if you don't go to college? ›

Many times if the student has not enrolled in classes during those 12 months, it expires. In almost all cases, scholarships are put directly towards your college's tuition and expenses, rather than a check sent to you. If you choose not to go to school, it will not be put in a savings account for later use.

What can make you lose your scholarship? ›

Aren't able to maintain your grades, as a certain grade point average is sometimes required. Change majors, or fail to enroll in a specific major area of study. Drop below full-time or half-time enrollment (or enter academic probation) Don't fulfill a service requirement tied to the scholarship.

Is there a limit to how many scholarships you can get? ›

There's no limit to the number of scholarships a student can apply for or receive.

How much scholarship money can I get? ›

Most students can expect to receive $5,000 to $10,000 in scholarships, but that varies widely based on the cost of attendance at the college and how hard the student works on the application process.

What GPA do you need to get a full scholarship? ›

One of the most common grade point average requirements is a 3.0 average. (Again, every scholarship provider is different and it's up to them to set their eligibility criteria, not us.) While some scholarships are based on a student's GPA, most scholarship aren't only about a student's GPA.

What is the hardest scholarship to get? ›

Top 10 Hardest Scholarships to Get
  • Rhodes Scholarship.
  • Fullbright Scholarship.
  • Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
  • Princeton Scholarship.
  • Mitchell Scholarship.
  • Churchill Scholarship.
  • Marshall Scholarship.
  • Jardine Scholarship.
23 Sept 2020

When should you start applying for scholarships? ›

Apply for scholarships early and often. Some scholarship deadlines are as early as a year before you start college. You don't need to wait until you've made your final decision about your school to apply.

Who decides who gets a scholarship? ›

Institutional (School) Grants and Scholarships (35%)

A student applies to a school and the admission office decides whether to accept the applicant. If the school gives merit scholarships, the decision typically will be made during the acceptance process, usually based on the student's grades and test scores.

Can you use scholarship money to buy a car? ›

Currently, students are not allowed to purchase a vehicle with federal financial aid funds. Numerous financial advice blogs warn of dire consequences to students who opt to use their financial aid to buy a car, including the revocation of student aid and possible jail time.

What info should you never provide for a scholarship? ›

If an application asks for money, walk away. Don't give out bank or credit card information. Any financial data you provide should come from IRS or FAFSA data. Legitimate providers do not ask for bank information.

Do colleges automatically consider you for scholarships? ›

The most common way to be considered for merit-based scholarships at colleges that offer them is to simply submit an application for admission. As a candidate for admission, you will automatically be considered for the merit awards offered by that school.

How much money does the average student get in scholarships? ›

The average scholarship is worth $7,400. Only 0.2% of students got $25,000 or more in scholarships per year. The NCAA awards more than $2.9 billion in athletics scholarships annually. 48% of students receive federal scholarships.


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