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How to Get Scholarships for College (9/16/2021)

by Dana E. Lyons-Canty, Post-Secondary Scholarship Access and Completion Manager

There are many options out there for students looking to acquire scholarships for college. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Applying for a Scholarship: The Basics

  • Do your research. To avoid putting pressure on yourself and potentially missing out on an excellent scholarship, start your research early
  • Be organized
  • Include all required information
  • Provide references/referees
  • Don’t miss the deadline
  • It is important for students to know that there are different types of scholarships that are available to them. Applying for the appropriate scholarship, increases the chances of a student receiving that scholarship.


Types of Scholarships

Some scholarships for college are merit-based. You earn them by meeting or exceeding certain standards set by the scholarship-giver. Merit scholarships might be awarded based on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait, or interest. Other scholarships are based on financial need.

Many scholarships are geared toward particular groups of people; for instance, there are scholarships for women or graduate students. And some are available because of where you or your parent work, or because you come from a certain background (for instance, there are scholarships for military families).

A scholarship might cover the entire cost of your tuition, or it might be a one-time award of a few hundred dollars. Either way, it’s worth applying for, because it’ll help reduce the cost of your education.

Below is additional information regarding merit and private scholarships.

  1. Merit Scholarships

Merit scholarships are awarded to you by a college based on your skills, not based on your financial need.

There are three types of merit scholarships:

  • Academic Scholarships

Academic scholarships are based on factors like student high school GPA, ACT or SAT test scores, and class rank. Private colleges and non-flagship state schools most often award academic scholarships.

  • Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are usually awarded to students who play sports at NCAA Division I and II schools and NAIA schools. For more information on athletic scholarships, check out The Sports Scholarships Insider’s Guide.

  • Scholarships for Other Special Talents

This type of award varies greatly. Students should research the websites of their college or university of interest to see what opportunities are available.

Tips for Getting Merit Scholarships

  • Fill out the FAFSA—some colleges require the FAFSA to be considered for merit aid, some colleges require the completion of the CSS profile.
  • Look everywhere—search college websites to see all the merit awards each school offers.
  • Apply to the right colleges—you’re more likely to receive a merit scholarship when you’re in the top 25% academically.
  • Ask about renewal terms—there may be requirements to maintain a certain GPA throughout college to keep your award


  1. Private Scholarships

Private scholarships are awarded to students by businesses, agencies, organizations, and clubs to use during college.

There are five types of private scholarships.

  • Local Scholarships

Local scholarships are usually only available to students in their high school, so students do have a better chance of getting one of these scholarships compared to a scholarship that every student in the country can apply for.

  • Regional Scholarships

Regional scholarships are available to students within a specific county, city, or state. These are more competitive than local scholarships.  Students tend to have a stronger chance at success for regional scholarships than for national scholarships.

  • National Scholarships

National scholarships are available to every student in the country and are publicized widely online, so these are very difficult to get since so many people apply. But just because they’re difficult to get, doesn’t mean students should not apply. Students should apply for as many scholarships as they are eligible for optimal possible outcome.

  • Workplace Scholarships

Workplace scholarships are available through some companies to the children of employees. Students should check with their employer or their parent/guardian’s work to see if any scholarships are available.

  • Military Scholarships

Military scholarships are available to students who are admitted to a U.S. service academy (like West Point), join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and serve as an officer in the armed services after college, or enlist after high school and receive tuition assistance after they’re discharged.

Tips for Getting Private Scholarships

Look everywhere—register with scholarship search websites, check your high school guidance office for local scholarships, research regional and state scholarships through your state’s official website, workplace of parents/guardians, church, local community organizations.

Sources to find scholarships

When do I apply for scholarships?

That depends on each scholarship’s deadline. Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so if you’re in high school now, you should be researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years. But if you’ve missed that window, don’t give up! Look at scholarship information to see which ones you can still apply for now.

How do I apply for scholarships?

Each scholarship has its own requirements. The scholarship’s website should give you an idea of who qualifies for the scholarship and how to apply. Make sure you read the application carefully, fill it out completely, and meet the application deadline.