A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further their education. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is not required to be repaid.
Scholarships vs. Grants
While the terms are frequently used interchangeably, there is a difference. Scholarships may have a financial need component but rely on other criteria as well.
Academic Scholarships typically use a minimum Grade Point Average or standardized test score such as the ACT or SAT to select awardees.
Athletic Scholarships are generally based on athletic performance of a student and used as a tool to recruit high-performing athletes for their school’s athletic teams.
Merit Scholarships can be based on a number of criteria, including performance in a particular school subject or even club participation or community service.
Grants, however, are offered based exclusively on financial need and determined using the applicant’s FAFSA information.
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. Most such merit-based scholarships are paid directly by the institution the student attends, rather than issued directly to the student.
Need-based: Some private need-based awards are confusingly called scholarships, and require the results of a FAFSA (the family’s EFC). However, scholarships are often merit-based, while grants tend to be need-based.
Student-specific: These are scholarships for which applicants must initially qualify based upon gender, race, religion, family, and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. Minority scholarships are the most common awards in this category. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad. The Gates Millennium Scholars program is another minority scholarship funded by Bill and Melinda Gates for excellent African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander American and Latino students who enroll in college.
Career-specific: These are scholarships a college or university awards to students who plan to pursue a specific field of study. Often, the most generous awards to students who pursue careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing. Many schools in the United States give future nurses full scholarships to enter the field, especially if the student intends to work in a high-need community.
College-specific: College-specific scholarships are offered by individual colleges and universities to highly qualified applicants. These scholarships are given on the basis of academic and personal achievement. Some scholarships have a “bond” requirement. Recipients may be required to work for a particular employer for a specified period of time or to work in rural or remote areas; otherwise, they may be required to repay the value of the support they received from the scholarship. This is particularly the case with education and nursing scholarships for people prepared to work in rural and remote areas. The programs offered by the uniformed services of the United States (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps) sometimes resemble such scholarships.
Athletic: Awarded to students with exceptional skill in a sport. Often this is so that the student will be available to attend the school or college and play the sport on their team, although in some countries government funded sports scholarships are available, allowing scholarship holders to train for international representation. School-based athletics scholarships can be controversial, as some believe that awarding scholarship money for athletic rather than academic or intellectual purposes is not in the institution’s best interest.
Brand Scholarships: These scholarships are sponsored by a brand that is trying to gain attention to their brand, or a cause. Sometimes these scholarships are referred to as branded scholarships. The Miss America beauty pageant is the most famous example of a brand scholarship.
Creative Contest Scholarships: These scholarships are awarded to students based on a creative submission. Contest scholarships are also called mini project based scholarships where students can submit entries based on unique and innovative ideas.