College is expensive, and it’s getting more expensive all the time. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t going to change any time soon.
Of course, some options are more affordable than others. We keep a constant tally of the most affordable schools out there. And we also explore cost-effective options like community college, trade schools and tuition free colleges.
But you could always use a little more help paying for school, especially if your dream school just happens to be exorbitantly expensive. The good news is that whatever your interests, personal background or career ambitions, there’s a scholarship out there that you’re qualified to receive.
Obviously, qualifying doesn’t guarantee you a scholarship. Indeed, the competition for many leading scholarships is extremely fierce. That’s why your best bet is play the odds. Apply for as many scholarships as eligibility allows. Improve your chances of getting some financial help and offset—or even cover—the cost of college or grad school.
Read on to learn how.
What is a scholarship?
This seems like a logical starting place. A scholarship is a financial reward earmarked specifically for the purposes of your education. Some scholarships are awarded directly by the college or university that you’ll be attending. A great many more are given by charitable foundations, private companies, religious organizations, independent benefactors, memorial funds and a wide array of other institutions.
Some Strings Attached
Scholarships differ from other forms of financial aid in that the recipient is rarely under any obligation to repay the sum. Contrary to student loans, a scholarship is awarded to its recipient free of future financial obligation.
This doesn’t mean that your scholarship comes with no strings attached. Some scholarships—especially academic, athletic and need-based scholarships—will come with academic requirements. In order to keep your scholarship, you may need to meet certain grade and attendance thresholds. Other scholarships may require your involvement with a specific campus group or activity. Naturally, if you’ve received a basketball scholarship, you’re school is going to expect that you’ll play basketball.
Still other scholarships may come with no obligations beyond the requirement that the award be applied to one’s education.
Shape and Size
Scholarships come in an extremely wide variety. Some scholarships are modest. A private company may offer a few hundred dollars to help you offset the cost of books. Some scholarships are extremely generous and may cover the costs of tuition, housing, books and even a spending stipend. As you can probably guess, it’s a good idea to be an excellent student or a star athlete if that’s something you’re hoping to find.
Otherwise, award amounts can vary widely, as can the dispersal of these awards. Some scholarships apply one time only, generally within the scope of a single school year. Other scholarships may automatically reapply each year. In other cases still, you may be eligible for a scholarship annually, but you may be required to reapply every year that you’re in college. All of these factors will depend on both the awarding entity and your school of choice.
So how can you determine eligibility? There are countless scholarships that fall under a wide range of categories. The following are possible categories of scholarship that you might be qualified for based on academic performance, extracurricular involvement, personal background, professional ambitions, or financial needs. Start by considering some of the categories below that may apply to you:
- Academic & Merit Scholarships
- Athletic Scholarships
- Religious Scholarships
- Women’s Scholarships
- Corporate Scholarships
- Full Tuition Scholarships
- Law Enforcement Scholarships
- Community Service Scholarship
- Prestige Scholarships
- Scholarships for Mothers
- First-in-Family Scholarships
- Legacy Scholarships
- Scholarships for the Disabled
- Need-Based Scholarships
- LGBTQ Scholarships
- Healthcare Scholarships
- Native American Scholarships
- Military Scholarships
- Latino Scholarships
- African American Scholarships
- Technical Scholarships
- Art Scholarships
- Music Scholarships
- Social Justice Scholarships
- Agricultural Scholarships
- Writing Scholarships
- Adult Education Scholarships
Of course, this only scratches the surface. The number of categories and specialized scholarships available mirrors the spectrum of academic subjects, extracurricular interests, spiritual identities, cultural backgrounds and professional ambitions represented in higher education. Such is to say that the list is, for practical purposes, endless.
Why Get a Scholarship?
If you plan on going to college, we need to have an honest conversation about how you’re going to pay for it. But first, we’d like to bombard you with some frightening facts. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):
- As of the 2014-2015 academic year, the average cost for 1 year of tuition and housing at a public institution was $16,188; at a private for-profit institution, $23,372; and at a private nonprofit institution, a stomach-churning $41,970.
- In just one decade, between 2005-2005 and 2014-2015, the cost of tuition and housing at public institutions rose 33%; for private nonprofit institutions, 26%.
- Since 1971, the cost of college has risen at a rate nearly 6% greater than the rate of inflation.
- Americans borrow roughly $100 billion dollars a year to help pay for college.
- The total sum of student loan debt held by Americans is more than $1.3 trillion and rising.
- More than 8 million borrowers are in default, collectively unable to pay a sum total of roughly $137 billion in college loans.
We’re not telling you all of this to freak you out. We just want to make sure you realize how expensive college can be. The combination of financial aid, student lending and personal financing can only go so far. Some free money would be great.
But who’s giving away all of this free money and how do you do get your hands on some of it?
That’s what we’re here to tell you. Whether you’re a star athlete, an academic standout, a member of a unique cultural tradition, a spiritually observant student, an individual in need of economic assistance or a hobbyist with a very specific set of skills and interests, there is a scholarship out there with your name on it.
Well, it doesn’t have your name on it yet. But it could. Find the right scholarship—large or small—and get a little bit of extra help paying for your higher education.
There’s no secret or trick to applying for scholarships. Simply stated, the more you apply to, the better your chances will be of scoring some of that free scratch. Naturally, every scholarship has its own rules, eligibility requirements, application instructions, submission deadlines, and standards for maintenance. But to determine how these conditions apply to each individual scholarship, you’ll need to dive in and read on.
Below is a list of the top sites and services indexing scholarship information and opportunities, including academic, athletic, need-based, military, LGBTQ, religious, artistic, agricultural, etc. To learn more, immerse yourself in any of the resources listed below. Each of these provides an enormous wealth of scholarship links, applications, and tips.
But be warned, your experience may result in free money. Proceed at your own risk.
One bit of advice before you proceed. It’s not a bad idea to set up an email account just for your scholarship search. Many of the sites you’ll visit will ask you to create a login profile. The result is usually a lot of email coming your way. This is useful as long as you’re in the midst of your scholarship search, but it can also be pretty irritating when it saturates your personal account. Make a scholarship-specific email account to help manage the copious offers and information that will be coming your way.
Scholarships.com offers one of the more comprehensive and navigable scholarship resources. Its extensive database offers perhaps the greatest search flexibility of any scholarship site on the web. If you would like to find scholarship opportunities that match you personal profile, you can narrow your search by providing information regarding your grade level, subject of study, and geography. If you would prefer to search without entering personal information, scholarships.com also provides an extensive directory of scholarship opportunities that can be navigated using anonymous search parameters. This means you can avoid being inundated with unwanted email offers (though it’s also noteworthy that the profile-matching option allows you to opt out of some email offers).
Scholarships.com also offers a few of its own grants. You can apply for these scholarship opportunities right on the site. The only point of critique here is that the enormity of the scholarships.com database makes maintenance challenging. Because scholarship opening dates and deadlines are always in flux, some information may be outdated and some links may even be broken. However, scholarships.com does give you pretty wide latitude to explore your options.
Scholarship Points offers a unique model relative to some of the other scholarship index sites out there. This is neither a static directory of scholarship opportunities nor a searchable database. Instead, ScholarshipPoints is a community in which you compete with other members for assorted scholarship drawings. You can become eligible for different scholarship drawings by creating an account and earning points. You earn points by clicking through various third-party scholarship opportunities.
Scholarship Points specializes in no-essay scholarship applications, the kind that usually only require you to fill out quick online forms. This means that you’ll be providing your information to a lot of different foundations and scholarship groups, which also means you’ll probably start getting a bunch of emails. The good news is that you won’t spend much time filling out individual applications. This can be a great way hit a wide array of opportunities without much work.
Scholarships aren’t the primary focus for Chegg. The main preoccupation here is study help and other practical student resources. Among them, Chegg is a noteworthy marketplace where you can buy or rent used textbooks, ask study questions or connect with an online tutor. It’s also got a pretty slick looking website with realistic video footage of students doing student-like stuff. But in addition to these resources, Chegg offers a decent scholarship interface. In fact, the Chegg Scholarships page seems to get to the point faster than any other scholarship site. You are immediately greeted by a directory of current scholarships, which means that Chegg Scholarships requires the fewest clicks from front page to online application.
Without providing any personal information or an email address, you can narrow this directory by checking off boxes regarding your application type, current level of education, age or GPA. You do, however, have the option of completing a profile and consequently bookmarking scholarship opportunities for which you are likely eligible. Chegg scholarships doesn’t offer the largest directory, but it is among the more hassle-free navigation experiences.
Student Scholarships claims to have the largest database of scholarship opportunities on the web. We didn’t have the time to count so we’re inclined to take them at their word. Either way, there’s a lot here. You can search a few different ways. The homepage provides small directories of both “New Scholarships” and “Popular Scholarships.” Student Scholarships does a good job of remaining current by rotating the small directory under each of these tabs, as opposed to listing a single, enormous and constantly outdated list. The site advises bookmarking these pages if you plan to return, noting that the directories are refreshed with new opportunities every few days.
If you prefer to receive updates based on your personal search preferences, you can also register to create a profile. Student Scholarships will subsequently match you with a list of scholarships, bursaries and grants that accord to your specifications.
Tuition Funding Sources
Tuition Funding Sources is another index of scholarships that boasts an absolutely enormous database of opportunities. The site claims to give you access to more than 7 million distinct scholarships amounting to more than $41 billion in free money, with 5000 new opportunities being added a month. TFS notes that one of the most important distinguishing factors is its focus on opportunities offered directly by individual schools. This means that you can use the TFS database to draw matches between the school or schools on your list and the scholarships opportunities either offered by or directly connected to these schools.
Though TFS does provide immediate links to a few “Scholarship of the Day” entries, you will need to create a profile to access the bulk of the TFS database. Once you do, however, you will be able to save relevant opportunities to your account, and apply for them directly through the site.
CareerOneStop is, true to its name, more primarily concerned with career advice, job searches and training opportunities. However, it also incorporates a user-friendly scholarship resource that requires absolutely no log-in or personal information. CareerOneStop offers a solid directory if you’re looking for a quick rundown of scholarship opportunities. With an estimated 8000+ scholarships on file, this isn’t the largest resource around, but navigation is fast and easy. The front page offers the full directory of opportunities arranged in order of the fastest approaching deadline.
This a useful way to scroll through opportunities to ensure that applications are still current and that you’ll have enough time to prepare your submission. You can also narrow the size of this directory by using the keyword search option or using filters for award types, locations and levels of study.
The broader focus of Broke Scholar is to help you find ways of paying for college. This includes tips on applying for financial aid and minimizing your expenses. Naturally, scholarships are also an important part of this equation. Broke Scholar gives you the ability to search “literally millions” of scholarships, grants and fellowships.
You can conduct this search without providing any personal information. Broke Scholar allows you to navigate its database by specifying your grade level, study area, gender or ethnicity. Each specification produces a set of search results. The results themselves are not presented in any apparently logical sequence, and are delivered in small result clusters across multiple pages, making for a clunky navigation experience. But applying for individual opportunities through these links is fast and easy. And uniquely, Broke Scholar provides you with a calendar option, where you can create a personal schedule for application completion based on approaching deadlines.
Scholarship Owl is an extensive and pretty excellent resource with a singular focus on scholarships. Listing more than 500,000 opportunities on its page, Scholarship Owl requires you to create a profile. With that profile, you gain search access to award opportunities specific to your grade level, areas of interest, geography and other factors. Scholarship Owl also offers you the chance to fill out a single application that can be utilized to apply for multiple scholarship opportunities. However, you do have to pay for this service. Scholarship Owl offers different levels of membership through which you can receive, compile, access and apply to various scholarships of interest.
Of course, there are plenty of free directories and matching services out there. But if you feel you could benefit from a full-service package, one that also includes live support from real people, you may consider Scholarship Owl.
We also offer a few of our own directories for specific categories of applicant. If one of these describes you, feel free to begin your scholarship search right here at TheBestSchools.org.