The Most Common Types of Scholarships

While there are scores of different scholarship types to be found out there, some are more common than others. Roughly speaking, scholarships come in two main categories: those based on merit and those based on need. Merit-based scholarships can be broken down even further into subgroups such as gender-based, academic, and athletic.

Institutional scholarships are those that are made available by the college to which students are applying. They can be awarded upon admission or applied for after acceptance and throughout a student's enrollment. Noninstitutional scholarships are all other awards that come from outside the college or university.

Gender-Based Scholarships—Male or Female?

Some scholarships are based on an applicant's gender. Don't rule these out as an option—find out what the school you are interested in offers. Athletic scholarship regulations permit Division I and II colleges to offer more male or more female scholarships in different sports, so the chances of being awarded an athletic scholarship for a particular sport might be better for male players, while another sport may offer more scholarships for females. Female students should not overlook schools with more scholarships for males. The scholarships that are awarded to female student-athletes may be substantially larger than those from a school where such scholarships are commonplace.

While some of the more obscure scholarships might not be what you would normally think of as big-dollar financial aid, obtaining even a few of them could add up to significant money. Three $500 scholarships add up to $1,500 and, to most people, that is quite a bit of money. Remember that every dollar you can get in scholarship money is money you don't have to borrow—meaning less money you will have to eventually pay back.

Athletics Versus Academics—The Battle for Money

Almost all institutions of higher learning have academic scholarship programs. Depending on the scholarship, eligibility is based on a student's high school academic achievement and test scores or on academic excellence as a college student. Schools often have much more flexibility in the way they administer these academic scholarship programs than they do for athletic scholarships. This is because the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), along with the other athletic conferences, has a laundry list of rules and regulations regarding the award of athletic scholarships. These rules are often based upon what athletic division the school belongs to and in what sport(s) they host teams.

Some sports that fall into NCAA Divisions I and II are restricted in the number of scholarships the institution is allowed to award, whereas NCAA Division III schools are completely forbidden from recognizing athletic ability with scholarships. So, apparently the old myth about how athletics are favored over academics when it comes to scholarships is unfounded—at least at some schools.

Merit-Based Versus Need-Based

While some scholarships are based on academic, artistic, humanitarian, or athletic merits, others are based solely upon a student's financial need. There are some scholarships, however, that recognize both merit and financial need, so do not rule out anything that you might qualify for.

An example of a scholarship program that recognizes both academics and financial need is the Kansas State Scholarship. Between 1,000 and 1,500 scholarships are given out annually to students who are Kansas residents with a minimum 3.0 GPA who have demonstrated financial need. Applications, FAFSAs, test scores, and transcripts are required of all applicants.

Always know what the terms and/or limitations of a scholarship are before you apply. Remember, meeting the criteria at application does not guarantee you will be able to meet the ongoing requirements to keep the scholarship.

Financial need, especially, can be seen from a number of very different perspectives that change from one scholarship donor or committee to the next. One scholarship committee might base its evaluation of an applicant on demonstrated financial need as determined by the federal government. However, another donor might consider an applicant “needy” simply because there is not already enough scholarship and/or grant money to cover the cost of a higher education.

Many institutions and private sources have scholarships for students with outstanding high school academic records. If there is no mention of the student's or parents’ income or asset information on the application materials, you can assume that financial need is not among the criteria.

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