The Ultimate Scholarship FAQ: Part I, The Basics

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3d human with a question mark featuring a dollar-sign pattern.If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked about scholarships, I could pay for every student’s tuition for a year! OK, maybe just a year’s supply of Ramen, but you get the idea.

I’ve decided to answer all the most popular questions, as concisely as possible, in this Ultimate Scholarship FAQ. I’ll break this into three parts (The Basics, Scholarship Eligibility, and Scholarship Search), and some questions will link to more in-depth blog posts on that topic.

Anyone curious about scholarships should start here!

What is a scholarship?

A scholarship is an award, which does not have to be repaid, that is given by a person or organization to fund a student’s education.

What is the difference between a private scholarship and an institutional scholarship?

A private scholarship is any award set up by an organization other than the federal government or a school. An institutional scholarship comes from an educational institution (such as a school). The federal government does not award “scholarships,” but they do award grants.

Who should apply for scholarships?

Every student who needs money for college!

I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to win a scholarship, should I even bother trying?

Yes! You don’t have to be an amazing student to win a scholarship (just ask this guy). As long as you meet the minimum eligibility required to apply, and you can write a good essay about yourself and why you’ll be successful, you stand a fighting chance to win a scholarship.

Can I apply for a scholarship at any age?

Yes! Whether you are a 16-year-old high school student or a 50-year-old mother of six just returning to college, there are scholarships out there for you. Most scholarships don’t even have age requirements (just year-in-school requirements).

Are there scholarships for non-traditional students?

In short, yes. However, don’t look for scholarships for “non-traditional” students, because there are very few awards that market themselves that way. Instead, look for traditional scholarships that don’t exclude you based on your standout characteristics. Adult students, for example, should apply for scholarships that don’t list an age requirement.

Does every scholarship require an essay?

No, but be wary of the scholarships that do not require an essay. Sometimes, companies will throw contests or drawings disguised as scholarships in order to get ahold of your email address and personal information (read more about scholarship scams here). Research “no essay” scholarships before handing over your information.

Speaking of essays, what should I say in my scholarship essay?

Scholarship providers want to learn about you and why you want to pursue your intended career. Think about what has motivated you to this point, why you will be successful, and why your career choice is important to you. For more help, check out my blog on how to write an amazing personal statement.

Have a “basic” scholarship question not included in this FAQ? Share it in the comments!

(Photo: WingedWolf)

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  1. Rosie May 24, 2013 / 2:42 pm

    Since I am learning so much, I figured it’s not too soon to start looking for scholarships for my 9th grader. Our goal is to no ever have need to do a loan.

    • Ryan Lane May 24, 2013 / 2:47 pm

      That’s a great goal to have, Rosie! Hope we help you achieve it!

  2. Rosie May 24, 2013 / 2:42 pm


  3. Ashley Cook June 8, 2013 / 12:25 pm

    Learning about scholarships has encouraged me to apply for anything I can. Especially because I am out of work of the summer due to a broken ankle.

  4. Liz June 8, 2013 / 12:35 pm

    Rosie, now is a great time to start. Have him start studying for the ACT and SAT. Yes, do both. Most people do better on one than the other. The colleges themselves give the best scholarships. Many will give full tuition for high GPA’s and test scores. Make sure he takes the PSAT in his junior year. There are many schools that give a full ride for being a National Merit Finalist, which one becomes by doing well on the PSAT. Check with his high school to see if he can take it in 10th grade for practice.

  5. Nashay Small June 8, 2013 / 2:52 pm

    I honestly am freaking out about loans. I don’t want to take them out but out of they multiple scholarships I have applied for I have only been awarded by one. I will continue my search but I really like this articles point of view because i feel calmer about going to college and finding a way to pay for it. Going to college has always been my goal.

  6. Sandra June 8, 2013 / 3:11 pm

    An everyday of life is a struggle to accomplish what needs to be provided for living well. Without an education in progress or in place is considered a scare for anybody who has not accomplished their goals. Many reasons I decided that I have to put in place a career that will lead me in a settled environment and live a wealthy life is challenging my knowledgeable experience with group of people who know me as a hard worker, business owners and a student as well as being a good parent. Scholarship is a benefit for anyone who wants to persue a career that will assist in having a wealthy lifestyle it can easily save lots of hard money from having to borrow or payback some student loans so apply do not lose a great opportunity offered use it do not let it slip away easy.

  7. LILYANNE June 8, 2013 / 5:52 pm

    Thank you, this was some very helpful information.

  8. Alysa Hejlik June 8, 2013 / 6:31 pm

    Scholarships is what I need to help pay for school. It’s hard to work and go to school and be able to pay for all the bills so I apply for as many scholarships as possible.

  9. Enna June 8, 2013 / 6:37 pm

    Great article for people who are unsure about this information!

  10. Carly Cairns June 8, 2013 / 7:59 pm

    Ha a few scholarships does help. It might not cover the whole cost of one year at school, but any little bit helps.

  11. maya June 8, 2013 / 8:19 pm

    This gives me insight!

  12. Anna June 8, 2013 / 9:05 pm

    Google scholarships, that helps. ask counselor’s

  13. Shanae June 9, 2013 / 2:07 am

    Last year of college and need help paying for it to make the world a better place. :D

  14. Elisabeth June 9, 2013 / 5:47 am

    I have already been through school but for a degree that I no longer want to pursue. A second chance is what I need now. <3

  15. Michelle June 9, 2013 / 5:52 am

    I’ve already racked up a large amount in debt because of student loans. I’m not getting enough in grants and scholarships to help out as much as I would like. I can’t quit school to avoid racking up more debt or I’ll never be able to pay off what I already owe, but at the same time I feel like I have probably 6 more years ahead of me and I don’t know how I could possibly pay off that much debt when I get out of school. I really need some extra help.

  16. Jake June 9, 2013 / 10:17 am

    Student loans are a real pain!!!! I still have a bunch left to pay back from community college :(

  17. Jill June 9, 2013 / 11:07 am

    wish i would have taken more advantage of scholarships opportunities! get ‘em while you can!

  18. Crystal (Abby) June 9, 2013 / 11:49 am

    i have tried to get scholarships and everything for the past 3 years its so hard… but i guess when you give up and stop worrying thats when things get easier

  19. Robel August 30, 2013 / 2:41 pm

    I need free scolarship for my phd for international relationship or other relative departments

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