A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further their education. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award. Scholarship money is not required to be repaid. Scholarships are a major component of college financial aid in the countries such as the United States.
Scholarships vs. grants
The term '"scholarship"' is sometimes used to describe any financial aid given to a student that does not have to be repaid. However, more precisely, and universally among college financial aid offices in the United States, scholarships and grants are quite different.
A scholarship is given to a student because of a reason: the student has qualified for or won it by academic, artistic or athletic ability, or by agreeing to follow a particular career, or has some special ethnic or other characteristic. Scholarships are not given for financial need alone. In contrast, a grant is an entitlement: approval is automatic if the students meet qualifications, based on financial need.
The most common scholarships may be classified as:
- Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's academic, artistic, athletic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's extracurricular activities and community service record. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, recognize academic achievement or high scores on standardized tests. Most such merit-based scholarships are paid directly by the institution the student attends, rather than issued directly to the student.
- Need-based: Some private need-based awards are confusingly called scholarships, and require the results of a FAFSA (the family's EFC).
- Student-specific: These are scholarships for which applicants must initially qualify based upon gender, race, religion, family and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. Minority scholarships are the most common awards in this category. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad. The Gates Millennium Scholars program is another minority scholarship funded by Bill and Melinda Gates for excellent African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander American and Latino students who enroll in college.
- Career-specific: These are scholarships a college or university awards to students who plan to pursue a specific field of study. Often, the most generous awards to students who pursue careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing. Many schools in the United States give future nurses full scholarships to enter the field, especially if the student intends to work in a high-need community.
- College-specific: College-specific scholarships are offered by individual colleges and universities to highly qualified applicants. These scholarships are given on the basis of academic and personal achievement. Some scholarships have a "bond" requirement. Recipients may be required to work for a particular employer for a specified period of time or to work in rural or remote areas; otherwise they may be required to repay the value of the support they received from the scholarship. This is particularly the case with education and nursing scholarships for people prepared to work in rural and remote areas. The programs offered by the uniformed services of the United States (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps) sometimes resemble such scholarships.
- Athletic: Awarded to students with exceptional skill in a sport. Often this is so that the student will be available to attend the school or college and play the sport on their team, although in some countries government funded sports scholarships are available, allowing scholarship holders to train for international representation. School-based athletics scholarships can be controversial, as some believe that awarding scholarship money for athletic rather than academic or intellectual purposes is not in the institution's best interest.
- Brand Scholarships: These scholarships are sponsored by a brand that is trying to gain attention to their brand, or a cause. Sometimes these scholarships are referred to as branded scholarships.
- Creative Contest Scholarships: These scholarships are awarded to students based on a creative submission.
Of increasing interest in the United States are "last dollar" scholarships. These can be provided by private and government-based institutions, and are intended to cover the remaining fees charged to a student after the various grants are taken into account. To prohibit institutions from taking last dollar scholarships into account, and thereby removing other sources of funding, these scholarships are not offered until after financial aid has been offered in the form of a letter. Furthermore, last dollar scholarships may require families to have filed taxes for the most recent year; received their other sources of financial aid; and not yet received loans.
It is typical for people to find scholarships in their home regions. Information on these can be found by asking local institutions and organizations. Typically, these are less competitive as the eligible population is smaller.
- Guidance counselors: When starting to explore scholarship opportunities, most high school students check with their guidance counselors. They can be a reliable resource for local scholarships.
- Non-profits and charitable trusts: Most non-profit organizations have at some point of their history founded scholarships for prospective students. The Good Schools Guide, a guide to schools in the UK, states "Charitable grant-making trusts can help in cases of genuine need," and goes on to outline several instances where this may be the case, including an "unforeseen family disaster" and a "need for special education".
- Community foundations: Many counties and cities and regions have a local foundation dedicated to giving money in the form of grants and scholarships to people and organizations in the area.
- Music teachers: Some music teachers offer reduced-cost or free lessons to help low-income children gain access to an arts education. In addition, some local non-profits provide free music classes to youths.
- Foundations: Certain foundations in the United States offer scholarships for entrepreneurial endeavors.
- Labor/trade unions: Major unions often offer scholarships for members and their dependent children.
- Houses of worship: The local house of worship may or may not have any scholarships for their members, but the religious organization or headquarters may have some available. Of course, theology study is highly encouraged.
- Chamber of commerce: Many chambers of commerce offer (usually small) grants to students in the community, especially those planning on careers in business and public service. Even if they do not offer any themselves, one can usually get a listing of members, and many of them may offer small scholarships to local students.
- Other volunteer organizations: Many organizations offer scholarships or award grants to students whose background or chosen field overlaps the field of the organization. For example, local chapters of professional societies may help the studies of exceptionally distinguished students of the region. Similarly, charity organizations may offer help, especially if the late parent of the student was a member of the organization (e.g., a Masonic lodge might help the orphan of a lodge brother.) This kind of scholarship is mostly ad hoc.
- School: Old, well-known schools are often endowed with scholarship funds.
- University: Old, well-established universities may have funds to finance the studies of extremely talented students of little means. Eligibility often requires that a student belong to some special category or be among a nation's best. However, universities provide information on scholarships and grants, possibly even internship opportunities.
- PSAT/NMSQT: In the United States, students are offered the opportunity to take the PSAT/NMSQT test, usually in their junior year of high school. National Merit Scholarship programs are initially determined by the scores received on the PSAT/NMSQT test. Some private scholarship programs require applicants to take the PSAT. The test can be used as preparation for the SAT.
- Enrichment Centres: In certain countries, enrichment centers have begun to provide scholarships.
- Disabilities: Students with disabilities may be able to apply for awards intended for people with disabilities. Those scholarships may be intended for disabled students in general, or in relation to a specific disability.
It has become more prevalent today that scholarships are misconceived to have a discriminatory quality to them. For example, as demonstrated by student-specific scholarships, minorities are thought to have a priority over Caucasian students when it comes to receiving these scholarships.
These beliefs are known to come from college students themselves who have been affected by their failures at obtaining adequate financial aid. Mark Kantrowitz, author of "Secrets to Winning a Scholarship", explains that the average family tends to overestimate its student's eligibility for merit-based awards and underestimate its eligibility for need-based awards. In turn, the most persistent target of this disapproval tends to be high-profile, minority-based scholarships.
Most scholarships are based on merit or talent, without considering economic need or ethnicity. Since the economically privileged usually have better schools and more access to other educational resources, merit-based awards favor the economically privileged. While Caucasians account for 62% of full-time college students in America, they receive 76% of all scholarships.
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