Financial Aid (Pt. 3): Scholarships

Welcome to the third installment in our Financial Aid series! By now, we've gone over the FAFSA and student loans, which leads us perfectly into this next topic: scholarships.

Now, before you rule yourself out because you think, "I'm not smart enough" or, "I don't have a high enough GPA," consider the fact that scholarships range in their scope and often go overlooked because students don't think they qualify.

So let's re-enter the world of financial aid and go through some of the basics of grants and scholarships!


What is a grant or scholarship?

Unlike other forms of financial aid, grants and scholarships are a form of "free money" applied to your college costs that you don't need to pay back. They can come from the government, the college you apply to or from private entities.

Scholarships and grants are also called gift aid and may be granted on several factors. Most of the time, gift aid is granted based on financial need.1 However, it is also awarded based on academic achievement or the course of study that you're pursuing.

Grants and scholarships are meant to cover part of the costs of your education and should be used in conjunction with personal loans, help from family/friends, federal or state loans, etc.

So how do I get a scholarship?

Let's go through some of the major sources of gift aid one at a time.

Federal government

If you've already filled out your FAFSA, then you're on the right path! The federal government finances about 37% of all gift aid, which you will be considered for if you have filled out your FAFSA already for financial aid.

The primary form of need-based gift aid from the federal government is the Pell Grant. Pell Grant recipients are decided based on financial need and receive a certain amount of money from the federal government per year to cover the costs of their schooling.2

For more information on the Pell Grant and if you qualify, please check out the DOE's Pell Grant website.


Most colleges have merit-based scholarship programs for applicants. Want to know if your school has a scholarship for you?

  1. Speak to your admissions officer or school counselor.
  2. Check out the CollegeBoard's scholarship search.
  3. Review the college's Financial Aid or Scholarships page on their website.

When I was applying for college, I found out about scholarship options in the actual application itself in a section asking me to select any that applied to me.

If you're unsure where to look, leave a comment below and I'll take a look for you!

Private organizations

To start off, check out this infographic from the CollegeBoard with some ideas as to where to look for scholarship or grant opportunities.

Are you a Girl or Boy Scout? Do you participate in a local organization or sports team? These groups often have programs for prospective college students, so be sure to check with organizers or program coordinators for more details.

Similarly, you may not even realize that places of worship, such as mosques, synagogues or churches, or employers, such as the companies that your parents work for, offer scholarships.

When in doubt, reach out to your local community leaders to see what's available!


Final notes

This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please use this article as a guideline for your own research. I spent a good week or two just looking up scholarship options for my undergraduate degree, but it certainly paid off in the end (see what I did there? So punny...)!

Do you have any questions about your own scholarship search? Leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter.

Thank you and good luck!

PS: this post was not sponsored by CollegeBoard, I simply think it's an amazing site and used it during my own college application process.


CollegeBoard 1 | 2
Department of Education

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