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TRiO Pathways to Success


SuccessOps:Scholarships A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.

The most common scholarships may be classified as:

  • Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's academic, artistic, athletic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's extracurricular activities and community service record. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, recognize academic achievement or high scores on standardized tests.
  • Need-based: These awards are based on the student and family's financial record and will require applicants to fill out a FAFSA to qualify if the scholarship is a federal award. Private need-based scholarships will also often require the results of a FAFSA, which calculates a student's financial need through a formula looking at the expected family contribution and cost of attendance at the intended college.
  • Student-specific: These are scholarships where applicants must initially qualify by gender, race, religion, family and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. Minority scholarships are the most common awards in this category, and not all are based in the United States. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad.
  • Career-specific: These are scholarships awarded by a college or university to students planning to pursue a specific field of study. Often the most generous awards are given to students pursuing careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing. Nursing students are in high demand, and many schools will give future nurses full scholarships to enter the field, especially if the student intends to work in a high-need community.

Here are some tips for applying to scholarships successfully.

To Get Money, You Have to Ask for It

The scholarship application process is very similar to the college application process. First, you must filter a large list of possible choices into a focused list that matches your needs. Then you must create compelling applications that are supported by achievements, essays, recommendations and interviews. Here are some tips to help you create strong scholarship applications.

Scholarship Application Tips

There's a lot of advice out there about the best way to apply for scholarships — how to package your child in the essay, what extracurricular activities to emphasize. The truth is, much of this advice can vary widely, depending on the author — what works for one applicant may not necessarily work for another. You will discover that most of the scholarship secrets you read about boil down to using common sense and following directions carefully.

Start the Research Early

The more time you can put into a scholarship search, the more options there are. You need time to research scholarships, request information and application materials, and complete applications — and remember, most scholarships have deadlines you must adhere to.

Read Eligibility Requirements Carefully

If you have a question about eligibility for a particular scholarship, contact the scholarship sponsors.

Organize All Scholarship Materials

You should create a separate file for each scholarship and file by application date. Keep a calendar of application deadlines and follow-up appointments.

Many scholarships require you to provide some combination of the following:

  • Transcript
  • Standardized test scores
  • Financial aid forms, such as the FAFSA
  • Parents' financial information, including tax returns
  • One or more essays
  • One or more letters of recommendation
  • Proof of eligibility (e.g., membership credentials)

You may also need to prepare for a personal interview. For students competing for talent-based scholarships, an audition, performance, or portfolio may be required.

Proofread Applications Carefully

Have a family member, teacher or friend read your essays.

Don't Leave Items Blank

You should contact scholarship sponsors if not sure how to fill out any part of the application.

Follow Instructions to the Letter

Make sure you do not go over the length limit for the essay. Don't send supporting materials that are not requested in the application.

Make Sure the Application Is Legible

You should type or print application forms and essays.

Make Copies of Everything You Send

If application materials are lost, having copies on hand makes it much easier to resend the application quickly.

Double-Check the Application

If you are reusing material (such as a cover letter or essay) from another scholarship application, check to make sure no incorrect names are left in or there are blank fields. It should be carefully checked for incorrect names or blank fields. Make sure you don’t forget to sign and date the application.

Get Applications In Early

You miss out if deadlines are missed. Consider using certified mail or requesting a return receipt.

How Scholarships Affect the Financial Aid Package

Private scholarships can actually reduce parts of your financial aid package. How? Colleges must consider outside scholarships as a student's financial resource, available to pay for education costs. If a college financial aid office meets your full financial need, government regulations specify that any scholarship money won lowers the need figure on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

What should matter to you which types of aid are reduced or eliminated — self-help aid (loans or work-study) or need-based grants? Colleges, following federal regulations, can adjust aid packages in a variety of ways — some subtract the value of unmet need first, others reduce self-help aid before reducing grants, still others use scholarship funds only to replace grant money. Some colleges even give the option of using scholarships to reduce the expected family contribution.

It's a good idea to contact the financial aid office and ask about their policies on outside scholarships.

This article was adapted from