What Is a Scholarship and What Types Are Available?

Photo of a woman staring intently at a computer monitor while search for scholarships online.

Receiving a college acceptance letter is an achievement, and once you've gotten your foot in the door it's time to start forming a game plan. You have a lot of decisions to make. One of the most crucial considerations you need to factor into the equation is how you plan to pay for your education.

Whether you're going to be paying out-of-pocket each term or relying on private or federal loans, it's smart to consider how you can offset the cost of your college degree by applying for scholarshipsSome scholarships are offered by third parties and are available to anyone who meets qualification standards. Many schools also offer scholarships available only to incoming and current students at that school.

What is a Scholarship?

A scholarship is an award of money that is provided for a student to support their pursuit of a college degree. The main difference between these funds and loans is that scholarship money does not need to be repaid. This means you can use scholarships to lower the cost of tuition, making an education more feasible.

Jillienne Marinelli, a communications analyst with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said that there are a wide variety of scholarships available to prospective and current college students. It's important to know, she said, that "it isn't just for someone with a 4.0. There are a ton of different types you can look into."

How Do Scholarships Work?

Each scholarship will have different guidelines depending on the criteria required. Read their guidelines carefully and be sure you understand what you will be responsible for. Also ensure you are clear on how the funds will be provided if you are selected. Marinelli said that while some will provide the money directly to you, others may work with the financial aid office of your school. Always know where your money is going.

Beyond figuring out the rules and requirements of how to get a scholarship, it's important to have a strong, positive mindset as you begin the scholarship application process. Like applying for a job, you'll want to present your best self. While you likely won't be seated in an interview room, you will need to showcase your strengths in the forms you'll be filling out and the essays which are typically required. Lisa St. Hilaire, executive director of Advancement Services at SNHU, said her best advice for applicants is that they be genuine. Beyond providing truthful answers, you want to present yourself as an authentic human being.

"Be honest and give as much information as you are comfortable with. Tell your story," she said.

Types of Scholarships

It can be daunting to wade through the pages upon pages of scholarships listings on websites like College Board, but if you approach your search strategically, it will make the process considerably more efficient. The best way to start is to break down what kinds of scholarships are out there and decide which ones apply to you.

In general, scholarships are broken out by the criteria they look at to consider the eligibility of a candidate - merit, financial need, personal background, athletics and so on. It's important to dig deeper, however. Here are a few examples of how you can divvy up the categories to make your search easier:

  • Scholarships for Women - There are many scholarships available for women, and you don't need to be a traditional 18-year-old to be eligible for them. Some are designated to offer support for single mothers, women pursuing specific academic disciplines, female veterans and women over 40 who are looking to return after a break in their studies, according to Scholarships & Grants.
  • Scholarships for Military Service Members & Veterans - Supporting current and retired members of the U.S. military and their families is a point of pride for many institutions, and you will find a number of scholarships designed around that same goal. Searching under College Board's Affiliation Informationsection, you can find scholarships pertaining to your service branch, military awards such as the Purple Heart, and even world conflicts you may have served during.
  • Scholarships for Minority Groups - Cultural diversity is another significant factor for many scholarships. You will find awards available to African Americans, students of Hispanic or Asian descent, Native Americans with tribal affiliations and more. Check out College Board's Personal Information section for all the possible offerings.
  • Scholarships for Students with Disabilities - Students with disabilities may also find themselves eligible for scholarships that are intended to provide financial support for them. The awards vary in criteria from the very general to being meant for applicants with specific disabilities. You can learn more in College Board's Personal Information section.
  • Scholarships for Current College Students - Scholarships aren't only for those students just starting out in their college careers. If you are a current student looking for some additional financial support, there are scholarships out there for you. St. Hilaire suggests starting your search in mid-January and keeping in mind that there may be smaller applicant pools for the funds you're pursuing, which might increase your chances of success. You can look for these scholarships in College Board's Academic Information section.
  • Scholarships for Specific Majors - If you already have your major picked out, be sure to check for scholarships that are designed with you in mind. There are awards for just about every academic discipline - from accounting to zoology. You can find these listings in College Board's Academic Information section.

Sarah A. Easley '12 '18MA is a professional content writer and proofreader. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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