A miniature graduation cap sitting on top of a roll of money received from college scholarships.

What Are College Scholarships?

When it comes time to begin taking a look at a higher education, most students are going to need to explore their options for financial assistance. The prices for everything from books and tuition to living expenses and rent continue to rise, and this has left some up-and-coming students wondering what their best options are for college. While many have a general grasp of exactly how scholarships and essays work, here is a closer glimpse at where this financial assistance comes from, who supplies the money, how it differs from other forms of assistance, and the proper steps to take when finding them.

The Truth About Scholarships

One of the most common myths about scholarships is the fact that huge sums of money go unused every single year, but this is rarely the case. In fact, most come directly from the schools themselves. For students, this means that those who decide not to go to school or choose another school will lose that scholarship completely. While there are quite a few that are generated and offered outside of academic institutions, it is primarily the school the student will attend that offers this form of assistance.

Who Else Offers Scholarships?

Scholarships can be offered by practically any entity imaginable even though schools are the primary source. Essentially any organization, either for-profit, non-profit, or single individual has the ability to offer them. Some of the most common groups that offer college scholarships include local businesses, charities, churches, and volunteer organizations. In addition to this, many special interest groups, as well as financial institutions, offer scholarships to patrons or locals. This generally includes credit unions, local businesses, alumni, and research firms.

The Prerequisites of Scholarships

A scholarship is a merit-based form of financial assistance, and these merits are completely up to the discretion of those that are offering them. When it comes to the school itself, most are generally offered for exceptional grades, athletics, or any other skill that the college would like to promote. Many of these also require the completion of an essay for consideration. For those offered by other institutions, the prerequisites may include everything from having a family member in that organization to one’s grades and extra-curricular activities. One important thing to remember is that many offers will have an application process, often requiring a transcript and a written essay.

Best Time to Apply For Scholarships

Some scholarships allow currently enrolled college students to apply, but many financial aid opportunities are limited to high school seniors. Ideally, you should apply during high school. Applying early means that you'll be able to take advantage of scholarships that are good for 4 years. Another advantage? If you apply throughout your senior year, when it's time for financial aid, you'll know exactly how much isn't covered. This helps you limit your student loans. 

The Difference Between Scholarships, Grants, and Loans

Unlike loans, scholarships do not need to be paid back, but there may be stipulations for students that fail to complete their schooling. Grants do not need to be paid back either but are considered a gift to the student in order for them to complete their schooling in a timely manner. Loans are typically only based upon monetary considerations, but they do not require essays.

Scholarships are often seen as the most desirable form of financial assistance available to students. Those with scholarships will have a large monetary burden removed their shoulders, which will allow them to focus on their studies and academic progress.