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Common College Scholarship Requirements Guide
Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.Full Bio
Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.Full Bio
College tuition, especially for out-of-state or private universities, can be expensive. Luckily, no matter your background, interests, or where you’re from, there are scholarships available to you. While every scholarship is unique, there are usually some common requirements students need to apply. Keep reading to learn more!
How do you qualify for a scholarship?
Abilities and demonstrated skills
The vast majority of organizations take academic and extracurricular achievements into account when awarding scholarships. These achievements typically fall into one of two categories: academic and merit-based achievements.
One of the most common requirements for scholarships is academic achievement. Organizations typically assess your academic achievements by looking at your GPA, the classes you took, and your performance on standardized tests (like the SAT or ACT). These credentials show how well you have performed in academics so far.
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Merit scholarships, like their academic counterparts, are highly competitive and prestigious. Participation in extracurricular activities and leadership skills are common requirements for these types of scholarships. Students often need to be the top performers in a particular field to qualify for such scholarships.
Not limited to students with the highest grades and best test scores, merit scholarships can also be awarded for a student’s exceptional abilities. These abilities may be athletic, artistic, musical or other pursuits. You can also qualify for merit scholarships through academic extracurriculars such as debate team, student government, or math team.
A purely need-based scholarship is awarded solely based on you or your family’s financial situation. Using metrics such as the FAFSA and CSS Profile, the scholarship will collect data about your finances. A common at-a-glance number for your calculated need is your FAFSA EFC number. Need-based scholarships will be awarded based on this calculated need. So, if your family is low-income, you’ll have a better shot at need-based scholarships, but if you come from a wealthy home, you probably will not find success.
For some scholarships, the only requirement to win is a stroke of luck! Instead of deciding a winner based on achievements or financial need, they will randomly choose a winner to receive the funds. Sometimes, these scholarships will have a set of baseline requirements to enter the competition. However, once you are in, you’ll have an equal chance as any other student.
If you struggled to maintain good grades or achieve high test scores in high school, luck-based scholarships may come in handy. However, it’s also worth noting that these scholarships typically have low odds of success. Because of the relaxed requirements, more students enter luck-based scholarship competitions. Every student who enters reduces your odds of winning. If you’re looking at luck-based scholarships, your best bet is to find scholarships that are not heavily publicized and will probably have fewer entries.
Combinations of scholarship requirements
Although some scholarships only specify one of the above requirements, the majority involve a combination of types of requirements. Most need-based scholarships also have academic and/or merit requirements and oftentimes, luck-based scholarships have academic requirements for entry.
Many scholarships also take both academic and merit achievements into account. Oftentimes, they will stipulate a minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score for entry, and then give students with impressive merit accomplishments additional consideration. So, although there are some scholarships out there that only have one type of requirement, many have several types.
Now that you know the different types of scholarship requirements, let’s get into some common sources of scholarships. These are some great avenues to look for scholarships with various qualifying requirements.
The college you are planning to attend also has great scholarship opportunities. As a Junior or Senior in high school, you want to make sure you are applying for scholarships for incoming Freshman. You’ll usually see these highlighted in the admissions and recruitment area of the college’s website or in publications you may receive from college. These may not be the only scholarships offered to students so be sure to ask your admissions counselor about other scholarship opportunities. Always make sure you submit your admissions applications and documents and any scholarship documents by the scholarship deadline.
Are you transferring into a college? Most colleges also offer transfer scholarships especially if you attended a community/junior college and are now transferring into a 4-year college. Be sure to talk to your admissions counselor to see if you qualify.
In addition to scholarships for incoming freshman or transfer students, there may be scholarships for your major or an extracurricular activity you participate in on campus. This is a great way to pick up additional scholarships as you go through college as some of these may not be available to first year students.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of a private or a more expensive college if you haven’t applied for scholarships or financial aid yet. You won’t know how much a college will truly cost you until you go through the financial aid process. Many private colleges and the ones we think of as being REALLY expensive offer many great scholarships and grant programs. With these grants and scholarships some students find what they thought was their most expensive option is cheaper than even public colleges!
You could get a scholarship based on where you live! Scholarships could be awarded based on your city/town, school district or county, and even your state. Our guide to finding local scholarships is a great place to start looking for location-based scholarships. You should remember to look for scholarships at every denomination of your location: your high school, county, city, and even state.
Oftentimes, county or neighborhood associations offer scholarships which have small applicant pools. These are often a better bet than national scholarships with thousands of applicants. Another great avenue for finding local scholarships is to ask your high school’s college counselor. They are usually tapped into some lists of opportunities for local students.
You should also make sure to note that most states have scholarships or grants for local students attending college in their state. Talk to your college admissions or financial aid counselor to see if your state offers any scholarships and how to qualify.
We have a wide variety of resources to help students find scholarships. Check out our scholarship matching tool to custom-match you with opportunities. You can also use our scholarship lists to find opportunities. They are full of vetted scholarships sorted by state, by major, or by other demographic information. No matter your situation, we can show you some great opportunities!
Scholarship timeline requirements
Now that we’ve gone over scholarship eligibility requirements and sources of scholarships, let’s get into the requirements for your actual application.
When and how do I submit my applications?
The answer to this question will vary based on the scholarship you are applying for. Deadlines vary by scholarship, so be sure to keep an organized calendar of deadlines for each scholarship you are considering. In terms of submissions, each scholarship has different requirements. Some may require mailed-in applications, though this is becoming less and less common. More often, you’ll submit via an online portal or through e-mail.
Preparing for other common scholarship requirements
Given that scholarships are typically given to those looking to enroll in college, most scholarships will require that applicants enroll in a college or university the fall after high school graduation. Grade level is also important to look out for – with some scholarships only targeting those in certain grade levels in high school (most commonly juniors and seniors). Others are directed at students belonging to specific minority groups or female applicants.
When it comes to applying itself, besides just GPA and test scores, many scholarships will require an essay. The subject of the essay will generally be related to the scholarship. Also, it is not uncommon for scholarships to request letters of recommendation. If your scholarship requires letters of recommendation, make sure to give your reference plenty of time to write and not ask for the letter too close to the deadline. You can also ease the burden on your recommender and help them write the best possible letter by giving them a student resume.
This will contain accomplishments that they may not know about and can connect with your other experience.
Requirements after receiving a scholarship
After you’ve been awarded the scholarship, you might be thinking, “I’m all done, right?!”
Not necessarily. Some scholarships mandate that awardees maintain a certain GPA while enrolled in college as a full-time student. Check whether taking a leave of absence for a semester could render you ineligible.
Others may make it so winners must participate in a certain internship or program on campus as part of the award. This may be a large time commitment for busier students, especially those newer to campus. Make sure to keep this in mind while applying.
Many times, scholarships only last for a year, but are renewable. If this is the case for a scholarship you receive, make sure you know how to reapply and when the renewal deadline is to keep receiving funding.
Last, but certainly not least, accepting scholarships could impact your financial aid if the awards exceed your financial need. If this is a worry of yours, make sure to reach out to your college or university before accepting a scholarship.
As you apply to scholarships, you’ll find a wide range of different types of requirements. Each scholarship judges its applicants based on different criteria. Academic merit, accomplishments in extracurriculars, and financial need can all be important factors. Sometimes, a scholarship is primarily based on luck. But most of the time, a combination of these factors will decide whether you receive a scholarship.
As you look for scholarships, you’ll want to find ones with requirements that are specific to your situation. So, it’s a good idea to look at scholarships on a local level. Finding scholarships for students in your county or state, or specifically for students attending your college or university, is a great idea.
Finally, scholarships have varying requirements for application submission. Some require letters of recommendation, and others might require the CSS Profile, FAFSA, or their own indicator of financial need. Make sure you keep track of each scholarship’s deadline and required materials. If you stay organized, you’ll ensure that you don’t end up in a time crunch or missing deadlines.
Frequently asked questions about scholarship requirements
When should I start applying for scholarships?
Much like college applications, students should start looking for and applying to university scholarships the summer before their senior year of high school. Doing so will give you enough time to properly research scholarships, write your essays (if needed), and fulfill all the other requirements necessary (like asking for letters of recommendation). For more information, check out our article all about when to apply for scholarships.
Is there a minimum income requirement for scholarships?
Need-based scholarships prioritize and aim to help lower-income students. Family income usually determines eligibility. Applicants will often need to have a family income below a certain threshold to qualify for such scholarships.
What are some signs of a scholarship scam?
Although scholarships are a great opportunity to pay for college, you should keep in mind that not all the opportunities you see are legitimate. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for scholarship scams. If you see an opportunity that meets any of the following criteria, it is a scam, and you should not pay the required fee.
- Scholarships with an application fee
- Fees for a list of scholarships
- Paying someone to submit your application to every scholarship that you’re eligible for