A scholarship is a prestigious award that typically includes gift aid and public recognition. Scholarships for college work by helping students pay for school-related expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, housing, food, a laptop and transportation. You will have to foot the bill if you want money for spring break parties in Cancun. Many scholarships are not need-based, which means you can qualify even if you are well-off financially. Some scholarships have strings attached, but that may benefit you and the donor. For example, athletic scholarships support individual student-athletes, which in turn enables college athletic programs to generate revenue through popular sporting events.

Discover Available Scholarships

You can uncover a hidden world of scholarships unknown to many students. Focus on government websites with financial aid resources that list available scholarships when searching online. Scholarship offers advertised on the internet can be legitimate, but some are scams. Do not pay to apply for scholarships or share personal information, such as your Social Security number, on an application. Your school counselor may be able to provide insider advice on where students like you have won scholarships in the past. Many local scholarships offered by community banks, service clubs, churches and area businesses are not widely advertised.

Apply for Scholarships

Step 1 is filling out the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) available in print and online. A summary of the information provided is sent to you and the schools you listed on your application. Schools use this data to help package financial aid awards that can include scholarship offers. Many families compare financial aid offers from different schools to narrow down their top pick of schools. Students who are serious about winning scholarships also apply to clubs, organizations and foundations that offer free money for college. You may want to consider looking into scholarships designated for certain populations, such as culturally diverse students or military veterans. You can even find zany opportunities like the Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship. Consult your counselor if you have questions about how to apply for small and large scholarships on well-known scholarship finder websites, such as Fastweb.

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Receive Your Scholarship

The best part of a scholarship is receiving it. Scholarship disbursement works in a couple different ways. You may be paid directly or the funds will go through your school where the scholarship money is first applied to your bill with any remaining money given to you. Scholarship aid should be reported to your financial aid office. Consider using your scholarship to reduce the amount of any loans you had requested that term. Unlike scholarships, loans must be repaid with interest after graduation. Scholarships may keep you from sinking into a sinkhole of student debt.

Fulfill Scholarship Terms and Conditions

Know and follow any stipulations of your scholarship award. Typically, scholarship recipients must maintain a good GPA during the term of the award. Academic year scholarships may have added requirements. For instance, if you receive an endowed theater scholarship you may be expected to audition for a certain number of plays, help backstage and maintain a 3.0 GPA or better. Your scholarship can be pulled and reallocated to someone else if you don’t honor your contract. Reasons for losing a scholarship can include withdrawing from school, failing classes, disciplinary suspension or changing majors if the scholarship is intended for majors in a particular field, for instance.

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About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.