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  • 5m.

    The Ultimate Scholarship FAQ

    Anyone who wants to land free money for school should start here to learn about scholarship eligibility, essays, search, and more.
    By Diane Melville - Updated: March 21, 2018

    What You'll Learn

    • Basic information about scholarships.
    • Who's eligible for scholarships.
    • Where you can find scholarships.
    stack of books

    If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked about scholarships, I could pay every student's tuition for a year! (OK, maybe just enough for a year's supply of ramen, but you get the idea.) This ultimate scholarship FAQ answers all the most popular questions I've heard—as concisely as possible.

    The Basics

    What Is A Scholarship?

    A scholarship is an award, which does not have to be repaid, given by a person or organization to fund a student's education.

    What Is The Difference Between A Private Scholarship And An Institutional Scholarship?

    A private scholarship is any award set up by an organization other than the federal government or a school. An institutional scholarship comes from an educational institution (such as a school). The federal government does not award "scholarships," but they do award grants.

    I Don't Feel Like I've Done Enough To Win A Scholarship, Should I Bother Trying?

    Yes! You don't have to be an amazing student to win a scholarship. As long as you meet the minimum eligibility and you can write a good essay about yourself, you stand a fighting chance to win a scholarship.

    Can I Apply For A Scholarship At Any Age?

    Yes! Whether you are a 16-year-old high school student or a 50-year-old mother of six just returning to college, scholarships are out there for you.

    Are There Scholarships For Nontraditional Students?

    Yes, but very few awards market themselves that way. Instead, nontraditional students should look for any scholarship that doesn't exclude them based on their age or other characteristics. Adult students, for example, can and should apply for scholarships that don't list an age requirement (most don't). Here's some additional advice for nontraditional students.

    Does Every Scholarship Require An Essay?

    No, but be wary of scholarships that do not require an essay. Sometimes, companies throw contests or drawings disguised as scholarships to get your email address and personal information. Research these scholarships before handing over your information.

    And, if a website advertises "secret" scholarships you have to pay to access, avoid it altogether. That is likely a scam.

    What Should I Say In My Scholarship Essay?

    Scholarship providers want to learn about you and why you want to pursue your intended career. Think about what has motivated you to this point, why you will be successful, and why your career choice is important to you.

    Scholarship Eligibility

    What Is Eligibility?

    Eligibility is a set of criteria that determines whether you can apply for a scholarship. Every scholarship has its own qualifications. Some of the most common requirements are "must be a U.S. citizen" and "must attend an accredited school"; however, every award will be different. 

    How Can I Find Out If I Am Eligible For A Scholarship?

    You can find the requirements on the scholarship application and on the scholarship's website. Read all the information carefully to determine whether you are eligible to apply—looks can be deceiving. For instance, a scholarship offered by a law firm may not be just for law or pre-law students.

    I Attend Community College, Am I Eligible For Scholarships?

    Yes! And the same goes for any student attending any type of school. The scholarship may not directly say "community college students may apply" or "vocational students may apply," but if the application says "must be attending school full time" and no other requirements exclude you or your program of study, go for it!

    I'm Already A College Student—Can I Apply For Scholarships?

    Double yes! As long as you are enrolled in school (high school, college, community college, vocational schools, graduate programs, etc.), then scholarships are available for you. The majority of scholarships target high school students and undergraduate students, while a smaller group of scholarships target graduate school students.

    What Makes Me Eligible For Scholarships?

    You'd be surprised! Everything from obvious stuff like your GPA and major to obscure things like whether you are right- or left-handed. The best way to determine what makes you eligible for a scholarship is to not limit your scholarship search to only your academic characteristics. Search for scholarships based on your hobbies, physical characteristics, location, etc. Use this checklist to help you.

    Scholarship Search

    Where Can I Find Scholarships?

    You can find scholarships through search engines, regular search engines like Google, social networks like Facebook, your advisement/financial aid office, and many other places.

    What Is A Scholarship Search Engine?

    A scholarship search engine is a website with a massive database of scholarships. You can enter information about yourself and view scholarships that closely match that description. Salt® has its own scholarship search engine, and other popular options include Cappex and

    Where Can I Find "Local" Scholarships?

    Local scholarships are scholarships offered to a very small geographic area (for example, residents of ZIP code 33167). The best chance of finding one of these scholarships is to check the counselors' offices at local schools. Another way is to Google them (like "scholarships for 33167").

    I Can't Find Any Scholarships—What Am I Doing Wrong?

    Some students are too picky, looking for the perfect scholarship; others simply don't have the time or effort needed to hunt down awards. The best piece of advice I can give for you in this situation is to search at least an hour or so every week. Eventually, you will get better at it and you'll start to think of your own strategies for finding new scholarships.

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