U.S University & College Scholarships

Attending college paid for with a scholarship is every student’s dream, but surely this is just for college sports students; the athletes amongst us?

This myth is not true. Even though there are significant athletic scholarships available, there are lots of other scholarships waiting for the right student and this could be you.

Scholarships for undergraduate degrees can be split down into a three key areas:

  • subject scholarships
  • student scholarships
  • academic scholarships and
  • sports scholarships.

Some scholarships for college are merit-based, where you earn them by meeting or exceeding certain standards set by the scholarship-giver. Merit scholarships might be awarded based on academic achievement or on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait, or interest. Other scholarships are based on financial need.

Many scholarships are geared toward particular groups of people; for instance, there are scholarships for women or graduate students. And some are available because of where you or your parent work, or because you come from a certain background, e.g. scholarships for military families.

A scholarship might cover the entire cost of your tuition, or it might be a one-time award of a few hundred dollars or more. Whatever the amount, it’s worth applying for, since it will help reduce the cost of your education.

1. Subject scholarships

From Accounting, Business or Marketing through to Law, Math and Nursing, if you have a specific subject you want to study for your major, chances are there may be an undergraduate subject scholarship for you.

You need to be very sure that this really is the degree subject you want to study for your major before you apply and not one that you may change after your freshman year once you’ve been at college for 12 months.

Many of these subject scholarships will be available for your major for your whole degree, not just the first year and cover not only tuition fees, but also help towards living costs.

2. Student scholarships

American universities like many other institutions support equality, diversity and inclusivity across both their student and staff bodies.

However, attracting key minority students or those at a perceived disadvantage to study a college degree, can be a challenge which is why so many student scholarships are targeted at:

3. Academic scholarships

If your academic entry requirements into college are likely to be exceptionally high, then the college themselves can offer a limited set of academic scholarships to attract the absolutely brightest, gifted and talented students to study with them.

These types of merit scholarships are very limited and as such are enormously over-subscribed, but they are available and worth searching for.

4. Sports scholarships

Numerous athletic scholarships are based on participation in one or more sport, e.g. golf, soccer, swimming, etc.

High school athletes aspiring for a scholarship at a Division I school should consider NCAA rules. There are different by-laws for financial aid under NCAA Divisions I and II for each sport.

Some sports, such as basketball and football, are called "head count" sports and offer full athletic scholarships, but there are restrictions on how many students can receive them.

In Division I basketball, the head count is limited to 15 for women and 13 for men on a team at one time.

But athletic scholarships aren't only limited to Division I and II sports. There are also scholarships for lesser-known sports, such as rifle, bowling or surfing.

Who provides these scholarships?

Fortunately, there are scholarships out there for every type of student who wants to attend college. These include:

  • Academic scholarships
  • Average academic performance scholarships
  • Athletic scholarships
  • Scholarships for minorities
  • Scholarships for women
  • Creative scholarships
  • Unusual scholarships
  • Community service scholarships.

Scholarships can be offered by governments (state and federal) as well as colleges and universities themselves. It’s worth looking at government within both your own home state and that of the college where you’re hoping to study.

Many of the subject specific scholarships are offered by:

1. particular professional associations who want to encourage students down their specialized career path

2. large global employers who want to see a return on their scholarship investment, and ask that you work for them after completion of your degree for a set period of time. This can in some cases be for several years at least.

For example, the Foundation for IT Education offers scholarships on IT subject degrees and the National Society of Accountants offer scholarships for students studying accountancy.

The student scholarships focusing on minority and disadvantaged students are more likely to be offered by charities, who set up foundations and advocacy groups to encourage diversity and improve education and career opportunities for those unlikely to be able to achieve this without scholarships.

For example, the American Association of University Women offers scholarships for women and Ronald McDonald house charities offers more generic scholarships.

Other ways you can look for a scholarship include:

  • The financial aid office at a college or career school.
  • High school counselors
  • Federal agencies
  • Your state grant agency
  • Your library's reference section
  • Foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups.

How do I apply?

Searching for individual employers, charities and professional associations can be very time consuming and frustrating. Several national databases exist which allow you to search across the different providers, according to your very specific needs.

Always ensure you go for the free ones and even with these, please check exactly what personal details they are asking for. It’s worth checking out student scholarships, scholarships and college scholarships to name three.

Please be aware that even with the plethora of scholarships available, most of them are likely to be over-subscribed.

This means you need to spend significant time and effort on your scholarship application, the same as you do when applying to college itself, to showcase your strengths and attributes.

Ask your high school teachers for support; they’re expert and practiced at this - remember that they’ve been through this before with students in previous years.

When should I start applying?

While many application deadlines are March 1, experts recommend students begin the process earlier to increase their odds of nabbing more scholarship money.

We recommend beginning the scholarship search as early as possible. Identify the eligibility criteria and important application deadlines so you don't miss out.

Experts recommend that high school seniors start applying for scholarships in the fall.

When you start the application process, we suggest students collect all necessary information, requirements, criteria and deadlines so you have everything to hand when you start filling out the form.

Try putting together a template that includes a profile about yourself and what subject you want to major in.

But don't consider the scholarship application process as lasting only for a few months. Applications for scholarships may be a continual process, as you may find you need to renew funding and seek additional finance throughout your college studies.

Do I need to write an essay?

Some merit and need-based scholarships require an essay as part of their guidelines, scholarship experts say.

One example of an essay prompt for a merit-based scholarship may be: 'What do you plan to major in and why?'. An example of a need-based scholarship may be: 'Describe a struggle or a hardship that you encountered.'"

While many scholarship programs ask you to submit at least one essay, some may instead call for a project, such as a poem or a graphic.

Most scholarships used to ask for an essay. But because so many are now applying for different scholarships, some can be done through tweets, or a short statement or by creating and uploading a video.

What about a letter of recommendation?

You will find that some scholarships require a recommendation letter as part of the submission guidelines.

If a scholarship requires a letter of recommendation, it's best to ask adults who know you well and can speak favorably of your character to provide you with letters of recommendation.

Experts say students should ask someone in a position of authority who will be taken seriously by scholarship judges, such as a teacher or a coach.

How can I increase my chances of being awarded a scholarship?

As mentioned earlier, you need to be organised and apply to as many scholarships as you can. If you are going to impress those that award the scholarships, you need to sell yourself as much as possible and be prepared to market yourself.

Make sure you are aware of directives that could make an application ineligible. Some common mistakes include not adhering to a specific word count or providing several recommendations when the guidelines only ask for one.

Two things that impress the judges are following all the directions exactly and approaching the essay in a creative way. This means thinking outside the box to get their attention, as they will have many other applications to sift through, and yours will have to stand out from the crowd in order to be successful.

This means your scholarship essay needs to start with a 'hook' or interesting lead-in that piques the interest of the reader.

Remember that every scholarship comes with its own guidelines, so print these out and tick them off as you complete them.

Double check you have provided everything they have asked for before sending it off. If you miss anything, you're likely to be rejected before they've even finished reading it.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to college in the U.S, please see: