Jump ahead to:
- Top need-based scholarships
- How to win need-based scholarships
- How to apply for need-based aid
- Resources for students with financial need
- Frequently asked questions
- Additional scholarship categories to explore
How to win need-based scholarships
Earning scholarships starts with completing thoughtful scholarship applications. Scholarship applications might include requirements like transcripts, test scores, essays, and interviews. For need-based scholarships, the scholarship committee will be considering your financial need as an application factor too.
Depending on the scholarship, some applications may ask you to share more information about your family’s financial situation. This can range from writing a statement of financial need to providing actual documentation of income or eligibility for fee waivers or free and reduced lunch.
Many need-based scholarships will also include an essay component, which provides you with an opportunity to share your story. When thinking about the essay as a student who has faced financial hardship, you should be focused on showing how you have grown and succeeded despite this set of circumstances. One of the mistakes that students make when talking about adversity is focusing too much on what happened to them as opposed to how they grew from the experience.
Writing about this will not be easy, so give yourself plenty of time to reflect and brainstorm stories that you’d like to share with the scholarship committee.
Essay advice for need-based scholarships
We also have some helpful resources to help you write powerful essays. Check out our guide on how to start a scholarship essay, and another on how to write a winning scholarship essay. Here are a few more helpful resources for writing successful scholarship essays:
- How to write an essay about yourself
- Guide to writing a “Why do you deserve this scholarship?” essay
- How to write a 250 word essay
- How to write a 500 word essay
How to apply for need-based financial aid
Need-based scholarships are just one part of the financial aid equation. In fact, for most students with demonstrated financial need, they won’t even be the most important source of financial aid to pay for college. Need-based grants, which are awarded to students by the government and specific educational institutions, are the most important source of financial aid for low income students.
Like scholarships, need-based grants are free money that does not need to be repaid. The most well-known need-based grant is the Pell Grant, which is awarded to students by the federal government.
Students can apply for need-based grants through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The FAFSA opens up on October 1st of each year and allows students to access need-based grants, but also federal student loans and work study.
Some colleges may also require a financial aid application called the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile is administered by the College Board and captures more information than the FAFSA, which some colleges use for awarding financial aid.
Remember, you will need to apply for financial aid by the appropriate CSS Profile and FAFSA deadlines. If you apply for financial aid and are accepted to the college, you will receive a financial aid award letter that outlines the various types of aid available to you.
Related: How to get student rent assistance
Resources for students with financial need
Your school counselor
If you are a high school senior, your school counselor may be a helpful resource as you navigate the admissions and scholarship process. Many school counselors will be able to help you find scholarships, answer questions about the FAFSA, and serve as an overall resource for you as you apply for admission and financial aid.
Similarly, if you are a member of a college access organization, your college counselor or coach will be able to provide help with anything related to paying for college.
Your college’s financial aid office
Whether you are a high school senior or a current college student, your college’s office of financial aid is a great resource if you encounter any problems or questions when applying for financial aid. If you are feeling lost or overwhelmed by any components of the financial aid process, you can give your college financial aid office a call (or if you are a current student, you can schedule an appointment to speak to someone).
Frequently asked questions
Does my family income qualify me for need-based scholarships or financial aid?
It depends! Every scholarship will have a different requirement for income and who is eligible. Many need-based scholarships will provide a specific income or range that eligible student must fall in-between.
For need-based financial aid, it will also depend. Each college will use a formula to determine how much money your family can afford to pay (this is also known as the Estimated Family Contribution or EFC).
What’s the difference between a need-based and merit based scholarship?
The primary difference is that a need based scholarship will be taking into account a student’s financial situation and will focus on supporting the students who need financial support the most. A merit based scholarship will be focused on supporting students with specific talents or “merits” as defined by the scholarship committee.
Merit scholarships typically assess students based on a variety of factors, including GPA, test scores, extracurricular activities, and internships. Keep in mind that many scholarships use a combination of need and merit-based qualifications to choose their recipients. So, as a student applying for need-based scholarships, you’ll have a better chance if you earn good grades and test scores.
Additional scholarship categories to explore
- Top first generation scholarships
- Scholarships for immigrants
- Easy scholarships to apply for
- Scholarships for high school seniors
- Top scholarships for women
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