The majority of incoming college students could use a little help paying for their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, and there’s no better option than a scholarship.

Why? Because scholarships are free, with no obligation to pay them back.

Sound too good to be true? A lot of people are intimidated by scholarships, because it takes time and effort to find and apply for them. But it can be well worth your while. This list of “Scholarship 101” tips and resources will get you started.


Types of Scholarships

Scholarships can be distinguished by their application criteria, which include:

  • Merit and Academic Scholarships. These scholarships are awarded based on academic performance, such as being in the top of your class, or getting good ACT/SAT scores. You might also need to demonstrate mastery of a certain subject or write a strong essay in your application.
  • Athletic Scholarships. These highly competitive scholarships are awarded to student athletes who display outstanding achievement in sports.
  • Need-Based Scholarships (these are generally grants). Colleges and universities award these scholarships based on a family’s ability to contribute to the cost of tuition. You must demonstrate financial need by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Applicant-Specific Scholarships. These are based on personal qualifications, such as the applicant’s ethnicity, gender, religion, military status, geographical location, or desired area of study, among other qualities.
  • Career- or Organization-Specific Scholarships. Many schools and organizations will award scholarships based on the program you intend to major in, such as nursing or other high-need professions. Some corporations offer scholarships or grants to employees who pursue higher education in order to advance in their career.


Each of the above scholarships can be further refined by how comprehensive they are. Make sure you understand whether the scholarship is:

  • Partial. A partial scholarship will cover only a portion of your yearly tuition.
  • Full. This scholarship will pay for your full tuition, but not your entire cost of attendance (COA). COA includes housing, meals, insurance, books, and other fees for which you may need funding.
  • Comprehensive. With a comprehensive scholarship, your tuition and full COA are covered.
  • Non-Renewable. This is a one-time award. You won’t be able to count on it for your next year of college. (Unless it allows for you to reapply, in which case you will need to qualify again.)
  • Renewable. If you are awarded a renewable scholarship, this money will continue for subsequent years, as long as you meet the scholarship’s criteria, e.g., maintaining a certain GPA.


When to Apply for Scholarships

When should you begin your scholarship search? Today!

Applying for a scholarship takes advance planning and the application process itself can be time-consuming. Scholarships are usually awarded by academic year, beginning with the summer/fall quarter. Typically, funding sources accept applications on an annual basis about six to nine months before the funds are distributed. So, check specific deadlines and back out your scholarship search and application process accordingly.


When should you end your scholarship search? When you’re out of college!

Keep in mind that—unless you get a comprehensive, renewable scholarship (which is rare)—your scholarship money has an end date and may not cover  extra expenses like books, housing, or other  fees.


How to Find Scholarships

There are a number of ways to uncover scholarships. The info is out there; you just have to wade through it and find the best fit for you. Here are a few resources to get you started.

  • FastWeb! A list of 1.5 million scholarships: large, small, private, and public. You can search based on your school year, area, etc. Sign up to get scholarship match alerts via email.
  • StudentScholarshipSearch. This resource matches scholarships to you, based on categorization, as well as provides advice on how to submit a quality scholarship application.
  • One of the Internet’s oldest scholarship resources; you’re able to search just about any scholarship available.
  • FinAid. Check out free scholarship lotteries, federal grants, and specific scholarships matching your interests, involvement, etc.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Scholarship Search. Search by category, state, grade level, and affiliation to find the right scholarship/grant fit for you.
  • Federal Student Aid. A list of federal resources available based on military affiliation, tax benefits, community service, cultural affiliation, etc.


Additional places to look:

  • Your School’s Financial Aid Office. This is where you’ll be able to find scholarships awarded from the particular college or university you wish to attend.
  • Your Library’s Reference Section. A great resource if you’re feeling old-school.
  • Religious or Community Organizations, Local Businesses, or Civic Groups. Many of these groups will offer private scholarships to qualified applicants.
  • Professional Associations. These scholarships are awarded to students looking to pursue a field related to a specific profession or industry.
  • Your Employer. Check with your human resources department for tuition assistance or reimbursement programs.


Tips for Applying for Scholarships

  • Avoid Scholarship Fraud. See the Federal Student Aid’s helpful advice on how to avoid scholarship fraud. For example, never pay for a service to help you find money for college and, by all means, don’t pay for the FAFSA. (One of those Fs stands for FREE!)
  • Make Sure You Qualify Before You Apply. Carefully read the requirements to find out if you’re eligible to apply for the scholarship.
  • Understand the Objective of the Scholarship. If it’s related to a certain field of study or a professional organization, you’ll be able to respond to questions and tailor your essay accordingly.
  • Provide Examples. When answering questions, support your claims with concrete examples to demonstrate your abilities and achievements.
  • Follow the Rules! Don’t go over the word count, stay on topic, and answer all of the questions provided—small and large.
  • Write Well and Proofread. Before you submit your application, double-check your answers and essays for spelling, grammar, capitalization, punctuation, and other writing mistakes.



Capella University offers a number of scholarships to new and currently enrolled students. Learn more about scholarships at Capella.