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    How do Scholarships Work?

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Learn about our editorial policies

    Updated: May 2nd, 2024
    How do Scholarships Work?

    Scholarships are one of the most common ways for students to pay for college. In fact, according to a 2023 report from Sallie Mae, scholarships and grants were the second biggest source of college funding (after personal savings). But many students wonder how scholarships work and what they need to know about the scholarship application process. Keep on reading to learn more about how scholarships work so you can find and win scholarships to pay for college!

    What is a scholarship?

    Scholarships are an award of financial support that help students pay for their education. While the most common types of scholarship are for college, scholarships also exist to help students pay for private K-12 education and graduate school.

    The major benefits of scholarships compared to other types of financial aid are that they do not need to be repaid and are sometimes renewable, so students can qualify for them for multiple years of their education.

    Who awards scholarships?

    Scholarships are awarded by a variety of organizations and even individual people. Organizations that award scholarships include colleges and universities, nonprofits, small businesses, major corporations, the federal government, and state governments.

    Also see: Top scholarships by state

    Who gets scholarships?

    Scholarships are awarded to eligible students! Because there are so many different types of scholarships, the types of students who receive scholarships can vary.

    Many scholarships are academically-focused, while others seek to award students with specific talents including writing, art, music, or athletics.

    And then there are other scholarships such as easy scholarships and no essay scholarships that are more akin to contests and winners are chosen at random.

    Related: What are the differences between scholarships and student loans?

    How can I use scholarship money?

    Scholarships are meant to be used for educational expenses which include mandatory tuition, fees, books, and other supplies. This means that you should be using your scholarship awards on these educational expenses. The other reason for doing this is that it ensures that your scholarship money is not taxable.

    However, every scholarship will be awarded in a different way. Some organizations will send the funds directly to your college, while other organizations will directly send you a check. If you receive a check, you can technically use the funds on anything, but we strongly recommend that students use it as an investment in their education. Plus, you may owe taxes on money spent on non-mandatory educational expenses.

    Also see: Do I have to pay back scholarships if I drop out of college?

    So, how do I win scholarships?

    Now that you understand the basics of how scholarships work, no doubt you’re wondering how exactly you can go about earning them. Luckily, our website is chock-full of resources to help you along the way. We’ll divide the process up into two main sections: Finding scholarships, and crafting successful applications.

    Finding scholarships

    Finding scholarships is the big first step to take when you’re looking to fund your college education. One of the best and most overlooked methods is to look for local scholarships. Asking for help from your high school counselor or consulting local community organizations can put you in touch with scholarships for people specifically from your town or neighborhood. These opportunities will have far less applicants than national ones, meaning you have a better shot at winning.

    Another great tool is our free scholarship search platform. This tool provides a great array of constantly-updated, vetted scholarships at your disposal, custom-suited to your demographics, interests, background, and more. Sign up today to be automatically entered into our no-essay scholarship competition!

    Winning scholarships

    Now that you’ve found some great opportunities, it’s time to get applying! Scholarship applications are a unique skill that have quite a bit in common with college applications. It’s important to write an effective essay to stand out. Try our “Show, Don’t Tell” essay primer and our guide for writing winning scholarship essays. You can also consult our guide on how to write an essay about yourself and how to tailor your essays to 250 or 500 word limits.

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Students can earn scholarships to help pay for their education; unlike student loans, they do not have to pay these funds back
    • Universities, non-profits, community organizations, and the federal and state governments all award scholarship money
    • In order to win, it’s a good idea to begin applying early and ask family and friends to review your application materials

    Start your scholarship search
    • Vetted scholarships custom-matched to your profile
    • Access exclusive scholarships only available to Scholarships360 members
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    Frequently asked questions about how scholarships work

    When should I start applying for scholarships?

    Different scholarships have different deadlines and application requirements. However, generally it is a good idea to apply for scholarships as early as possible, preferably during high school or even middle school!

    Can I apply for multiple scholarships?

    Yes! In fact, we encourage it! Applying for multiple scholarships will maximize your chances of receiving financial assistance for your education.

    Do I have to pay back scholarships?

    Scholarships are typically considered gifts and do not need to be repaid. However, it’s essential to read the terms and conditions of each scholarship to understand any requirements.

    What can scholarships be used for?

    Scholarships are intended to cover educational expenses such as tuition, fees, and sometimes living expenses. However, some scholarships may have specific restrictions on how the funds can be used.

    Are scholarships renewable?

    Some scholarships are one-time awards while others may be renewable for multiple years. Renewal often depends on maintaining a certain GPA, meeting specific criteria, or reapplying each year.

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