Make Sense of Scholarships

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
by Roxana Hadad,

Scholarship dollars come from sources as diverse as the students who receive them. An understanding of who's giving away this money for college will help you learn where to look and how to win.

College-based Scholarships

Besides using glossy brochures, cute mascots and sweatshirts emblazoned with their names, colleges and universities attract new students by offering scholarships. They also have award programs to help current students with their academic careers. Some of these scholarships you have to apply for; others you receive automatically for being a good student.

Merit Scholarships
These scholarships award students based on a variety of achievements, from high academic performance, to leadership ability, to artistic accomplishment. Financial need may also be considered. Often, you won't apply for these awards; appropriate recipients are chosen based on entrance applications.
Departmental Awards
Some college departments offer awards to students who show promise and achievement in one of their majors. To find out about these opportunities, call the dean's office in your area of study.
Athletic Scholarships
Scholarships are one of the main ways colleges attract top athletes. You can receive anything from a small award to a full ride. Talk to your high school coach or counselor and check out "Play Ball!: The Athletic Scholarship Game."
Fellowships are awards offered to incoming graduate students. Generally these awards accompany admission to a graduate program and cover all expenses, including tuition and a living stipend.

For more information on these scholarships, contact the financial aid office at your school or follow up with specific organizations.

Private Scholarships

Your school isn't the only one who wants to give you money. Some private scholarships are available as early as your junior year in high school. They are a little harder to find, but resources like the FastWeb Scholarship Search and FinAid can help, or try contacting these types of associations on your own.

Businesses and Corporations
Corporations use scholarships to advertise the company name and attract future employees, while giving the student financial assistance and professional contacts. Start with local businesses and move on to the bigger companies like Coca-Cola and Microsoft. Try calling local firms and check out the Web sites of national companies to see what awards they offer.
Professional Associations
Many professional associations, like the American Federation of Teachers International and the Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers, offer scholarships to encourage students in their field. Check the FastWeb listing of professional associations or use a search engine to find more.
Clubs and Groups in Your Community
Local civic groups and organizations, like the Rotary Clubs and the Jaycees, offer lots of scholarships. Scan your local newspaper, visit the Chamber of Commerce and speak with your high school counselor to learn more.
The Religious Community
Churches and other places of worship often sponsor scholarships. Also check with worship-oriented service groups. You may not have to be a member; some use criteria like community service or financial need to determine eligibility.
Minority Organizations
To encourage minority involvement and increase diversity, many organizations - such as the Hispanic College Fund or Women In Communication - use race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation as eligibility requirements for their scholarships.
Your Parent's Boss
Does your mother work for Procter & Gamble? Is dad a member of the AFL/CIO? Check with your parents' employers or labor unions to see if they offer awards to children of their employees.
Other Parent Affiliations
Is your dad an Elk? Does your mom work with the Chamber of Commerce? Ask if the clubs and organizations they belong to offer scholarships. Be sure to include veterans groups, professional organizations and patriotic, civil and fraternal associations.

Visit The Winner's Circle Scholarship Handbook for more expert advice.

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