How to Pay for College with Scholarships: The Complete Guide to Getting Free Money for School
If you’re here, you want to find money for college. And we want to help. That’s why we’ve put together this scholarship how-to guide: how to find them, how to organize them, how to apply for them, and, most importantly, how to win them
Financial Aid Terms & Definitions
Loans are financial aid that can come from the government, banks and private institutions. What makes them different from grants and scholarships? You have to pay it back (usually with interest). Today, around 70% of students graduate with student loans, with an average debt of $29,000 per person.
Grants can come from the government, colleges and universities, and even corporations – but unlike loans, they don’t need to be repaid. Federal grants, like the Pell Grant, are typically offered based on financial need, while private institutional grants are available based on need, merit, student demographics and more.
Scholarships are another form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. There are thousands of scholarships out there, and millions (if not billions) of dollars in available award money. You can find scholarships that relate to just about any interest or experience, from animals to technology to childhood illness – some are need-based, and some are merit-based.
External scholarships are awards funded by private groups, including individual donors, businesses, non-profits, foundations and other organizations. They are not typically affiliated with or restricted to students from a particular school.
School-sponsored scholarships are affiliated with or provided by individual colleges and universities. Although they may also be funded by private individuals or foundations, they have restricted students of a particular school (and sometimes of a particular major), and students must usually apply through the school.
Need-based scholarships are awarded based primarily on demonstrated financial need. These can be especially helpful for students whose parents make too much to qualify for federal aid programs, but who still need help paying for college.
Merit based-scholarships do not typically take financial need into account (although some may, to a lesser extent). Instead, these scholarships are awarded based on exceptional talent in a given discipline. Although there are many general academic merit-based scholarships, some are targeted toward specific majors, sports, art forms, interests and more. Merit-based scholarships may also be awarded to students who demonstrate impressive volunteer work or commitment to a particular field.
Renewable scholarships award scholarship winners a certain amount of money each year they attend college (usually up to four years). Receiving these awards for multiple years is often contingent on maintain a certain GPA or enrolling in a certain major.
Non-renewable scholarships provide winning students with funds for only one year – in fact, previous winners are often forbidden from applying to the same non-renewable scholarship two years in a row.
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