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How to Get a Scholarship and Why It Matters If You Do

Earning a scholarship can reduce your borrowed financial aid loans and out-of-pocket costs to attend college. To be a competitive candidate for a scholarship, you’ll need to identify one you’re eligible for and adhere to the application requirements and deadlines. If you have an opportunity to include a scholarship essay, be sure to showcase your personal, academic and professional accomplishments.


Whether you’re sifting through college applications or already on your way to earning a degree, determining how you'll pay for your education may be top of mind.

Scholarships, in particular, present a great opportunity to help finance your degree while reducing the amount of borrowed financial aid. Scholarships are considered gift money since they don't require repayment, and qualifying for them may be more attainable than you think.

When Should I Start Applying for Scholarships?

Since scholarships are often awarded through individual organizations, their application formats and deadlines vary. Because of this, it’s especially important to read through the requirements for each scholarship that interests you.

Knowing when to strike can make all of the difference in the chance to obtain scholarships. While many have application deadlines in the year prior to the award, there are also plenty with rolling deadlines. You can apply to those at any point in the year.

You might be surprised to learn you can apply for scholarships from a young age, with options available to children and adolescents. So, if you're thinking about how you'll pay for college, know it's not too early to start researching scholarships and submitting applications. And if you're already in college, it's also not too late to begin the process.

Donna Camire with the text Donna CamireTo make full use of this financial aid option, you can continue applying for scholarships year-round and throughout the years you're seeking college funding.

You don't have to stop after you're awarded a scholarship, either. "There is no limit to the number of scholarships that can be offered to a student," said Donna Camire, director of Student Financial Services for the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Global Campus. If you're committed to the application process and scholarship organizations continue to select you, you can apply many awarded scholarships toward your degree program.

Searching in the Right Spots

Scholarship availability also varies. Some are based on academic achievement and merit, while others are specific to certain circumstances. Once the timeframe for applying has been established, knowing where to look is the next crucial step in reducing the out-of-pocket cost of your education.

With so many types of scholarships, the wealth of choices may be overwhelming. Start by checking out college websites for the schools that interest you, and then shift to employee, community, federal and organizational offerings. If you’re currently employed, your organization may offer employee scholarship opportunities.

"My recommendation is to set aside ample time to research and apply for scholarships," Camire said. "The process can be time-consuming, but the efforts will pay off if you can mitigate the accrual of student loan debt."

Checking out free, searchable scholarship databases will allow you to enter a variety of personal information, characteristics and achievements to maximize your results.

Some free scholarship search resources include CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

How Do You Get Offered a Scholarship?

To even be considered for a scholarship, you typically need to submit a formal application. But how can you increase your chances of becoming a scholarship recipient?

"Sell yourself," Camire said. You'll want to convince whoever is reading your application that you are deserving of the money they are gifting.

How you do so will depend on application requirements. For example, need-based scholarships may require you to submit financial information, while merit-based scholarships may request you send your transcript. Many also have an essay component that allows you to expand on who you are.

One common essay prompt is: Why do you deserve this scholarship?

How Do You Answer 'Why Do You Deserve This Scholarship?'

You can take all sorts of approaches to answer this open-ended question and other similar prompts.

"I would think about this essay in the same way you would approach an interview for a job," Camire said. It's an opportunity to showcase your interests and personal, academic and professional accomplishments.

"You can tell a lot about a person – what drives them and motivates them – by what they do both in and outside of work/school," Camire said.

She suggests referencing:

  • Community service projects you've participated in or an indicator that you're involved in the community
  • Organizations you've belonged to
  • Personal and professional awards you have received
  • Sports, clubs and other activities you've engaged in

Over the course of your essay, you can tie together all of your current and previous experiences to help the application reader get to know you and the work you've put in to get to this point in your life.

"The goal is to make your scholarship (application) rise to the top of the pile; you want to stand out," Camire said. "The more details you include, the more you will stand out to the organization."

Just as you would research an employer to prepare for a job interview, you'll want to understand the organization awarding the scholarship before applying. Knowing your audience and their values can help you organize your essay.

What GPA Gets You a Scholarship?

If you are asked to supply your transcript or your grade point average (GPA) with your application, the organization awarding the scholarship will most likely take it into account as they consider candidates, particularly if you're applying for a scholarship focused on academic performance.

Even if you're not pursuing a merit-based scholarship, your GPA could indicate your academic drive and motivation, Camire said. A higher GPA can be important to scholarship organizations; they want to ensure they financially support someone determined to succeed in college.

Not all scholarship applications will ask for your GPA, though, or weigh it as much as other aspects of your application. "(Your GPA) is just one component to think about, in addition to the many others," Camire said.

How Do You Receive a Scholarship?

Some scholarships will pay directly to your school, while others will send the awarded amount directly to you. Ask questions once you have been granted a scholarship to be sure the funds will be appropriately applied to your educational costs, such as tuition or textbooks.

No matter how the funds are provided to you, work closely with your school’s financial aid office to ensure any other awarded funds are appropriately adjusted if necessary. Aid of any kind applied to your account may not exceed the cost of attendance, and the addition of scholarship funding to your award may mean the reduction of other sources of aid. This reduction should be a noteworthy celebration in conjunction with your awarded scholarship, as scholarship funds supplement the need to take out student loans in excess.

If you're awarded a $1,000 scholarship, for example, it could cover tuition costs for a 3-credit undergraduate course at Southern New Hampshire University.

There are many scholarship options available to current and soon-to-be college students. Taking the time to locate the right options for you and applying with passion and precision is a good way to position yourself well among other applicants.

Online. On campus. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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