Complete Guide to Scholarships for College Students

Scholarships for college are one of the many ways that students pay for college.  A recent College Ave survey conducted by Barnes & Noble College InsightsSM found that 77% of students surveyed received scholarships and 59% received federal grants. That means there are tons of options for every type of student to receive financial aid for college – and there is plenty of funding to go around.

Every scholarship is unique and can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Even if you don’t cover the entire cost of your college education, every bit helps. You can use scholarship money to pay your tuition, room and board, and other miscellaneous college expenses. And the best part? That money is yours to keep.

What are scholarships?

Scholarships are free money awarded to help pay for college that does not need to be repaid. There are scholarships that are exclusively for high school students who haven’t started college yet and for students who are about to start college or who are already in college. Scholarship awards can be based on financial need, academic performance, or merit. They usually cover a specific area of study, interest, qualification, or achievement, and can be funded by many different sources. Some examples of scholarship categories include academic, athletic, for minority students, military families, writers, LGBTQ, and so many more.

Scholarships for college students can come in any amount, typically ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands. They can also come from a wide variety of sources, including schools, private businesses, foundations, non-profit groups, and other organizations. Because you don’t need to repay scholarships, there is no reason to limit the number of scholarships you apply for. Some students fund their entire education through a combination of scholarships.

Read more on What’s the Difference Between Grants, Scholarships, and Loans?

Many scholarships are offered year-round and don’t impose limits on which semesters they can apply to. Whether you’ve been awarded scholarship money in the past or you’re applying for the first time, it is worth it to apply.

Bonus: College Ave offers a $1,000 monthly scholarship sweepstakes. You can enter for free. We choose a new winner each month, so the next one could be you!

Types of Scholarships

There’s really no limit to the different types of scholarships that are available to college students. Even a quick look at websites like will show you dozens of categories you can browse.

Scholarships by Type (via

  • Academic Scholarships
  • Acting Scholarships
  • Anti-Bullying Scholarships
  • Athletic Scholarships
  • Aviation Scholarships
  • Bible Scholarships
  • Cancer Scholarships
  • Celebrity Scholarships
  • College Scholarships for Single Mothers
  • Community Service Scholarships
  • Corporate Scholarships
  • Dance Scholarships
  • Diabetes Scholarships
  • Disability Scholarships
  • Distance Learning Scholarships
  • Dyslexia Scholarships
  • Easy Scholarships
  • Employer and Employee Scholarships
  • Ethnicity Scholarships
  • Federal Scholarships
  • First in Family Scholarships
  • Full Tuition Scholarships
  • Green Scholarships
  • International Student/Study Abroad Scholarships
  • Legacy Scholarships
  • Local Scholarships
  • Military Scholarships
  • Prestigious Scholarships
  • Religious Scholarships
  • Minority Scholarships
  • Non-Academic College Scholarships
  • Online Scholarships
  • Scholarship Contests & Sweepstakes
  • Scholarship Essay Contests
  • Scholarship Poetry Contests
  • Scholarships for Adult Students
  • Scholarships for Average Students
  • Scholarships for Gay or Lesbian Students
  • Scholarships for Men
  • Scholarships for Moms
  • Scholarships for Returning Students
  • Scholarships for Single Fathers
  • Scholarships for Summer
  • Scholarships for Undocumented Students
  • Scholarships for Women
  • September 11th Scholarships
  • Study Abroad Scholarships
  • Technology Scholarships
  • Transfer Scholarships
  • University Scholarships
  • Unusual Scholarships

How to Find Scholarships

There are several ways to find scholarships. A good place to start is at your school, whether you’re still a high school student or already enrolled in college. If scholarship information is not available on the school’s website, you can contact your guidance counselor or advisor to find the right resources. Advisors can also help you understand each application and give feedback on your essays and forms. Ask your guidance counselor which scholarships for college students are the most popular and which are the best suited for the type of major or school you wish to pursue.

Another way to find scholarships is by asking around. Start local with your employer, religious institute, library, or local businesses to see if they offer any scholarships. You should also check out free online databases, which allow you to search thousands of available scholarships. Use filters and keywords to find scholarships that fit your qualifications, experiences, background, or unique interests. Focus on the scholarships you’re a good match for and rule out the ones where you don’t meet all the requirements. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the options, just narrow it down to the ones that make the most sense.

Here are some websites to check out first:

How to Apply for Scholarships

Every scholarship application will have its own requirements. Some applications are quick and simple, but others might be more involved. For example, you might have to submit an essay with your application, or you may need to collect multiple letters of recommendation. Many scholarship applications have hard deadlines in place, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Don’t let procrastination get in the way of earning free money for college.

When should I apply for scholarships?

You should apply for scholarships as soon as they are available. There are always scholarships for college students open year-round, but some students may only focus on applying during certain times of the year. For high school students, you should apply as early as sophomore or junior year, but really buckle down in senior year before you even choose your school. You’ll not only get the applications out of the way early, but you’ll also be able to predict your financial situation in advance. If you give yourself enough time to apply for multiple scholarships, you can collect money from many different sources. Don’t skip scholarships with smaller awards. Winning $1,000 here and there can add up quickly. The more you apply for, the better your chances will be to help lower your overall college expenses.

80% of students wish they researched more scholarship options

Make applying to scholarships your new habit. In the same College Ave survey, we found that 80% of students wish they researched more scholarship options. There are scholarships available for high school students, undergrads, and graduate students, so there’s no excuse not to do your research.

What makes for a good application?

Maximize your chances by focusing your attention on the scholarships that you’re most likely to be eligible for. Some scholarships are available exclusively to those who belong to specific organizations, such as honor societies. Other scholarships are awarded based on high academic achievement. Some are awarded based on ethnic background or unique interests. With all the options out there, it’s important to focus your time on scholarships that you’re more likely to win. Don’t bypass a scholarship just because the amount of money available is smaller than others.

Think about ways you can stand out as an applicant and unique experience you can highlight. Whether it means volunteering for a cause that’s special to you or sharing a personal life experience in your application essay, you’ll want to be creative and make a lasting impression. Finally, don’t be shy about asking others for help – get friends, family, teachers, or counselors to review your submissions and share their feedback with you. Check out our 10 Tips for Scholarship Success for more ideas.

Take Precaution

Not all scholarship offers you’ll receive or find online are legitimate, so be careful. You shouldn’t be required to pay a fee in order to apply for a scholarship, so if an application asks for money, steer clear. If you’re at all unsure about whether a scholarship is real, do your homework. There are free resources such as the Better Business Bureau available to help you confirm if a company is legitimate.

Will scholarships affect my financial aid?

Be aware that scholarships could affect the amount of federal aid you’re qualified to receive. You’ll need to report the private scholarship to your school, and your school will consider that money when calculating how much of the cost of attendance you still need to cover. If you have any questions about how a private scholarship could affect your aid, be sure to contact your college to discuss your situation.

You have lots of options when it comes to paying for college. Scholarships are a great way for college students to partially or completely fund your education. Just be sure to take the time and put in the effort to research and apply for them and find opportunities that best fit your life.


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