The ABCs of Scholarships

Apply for scholarships — it's free money!


Free money — Scholarships and grants are known as gift aid because they do not require repayment. If you plan to pursue a post-high school education, or are currently enrolled in a college or university, you should find out if you are eligible for any scholarships before you consider student loans.

Who awards scholarships and what determines eligibility?

There are two types of scholarships: Institutional Scholarships and Private Sector Scholarships:

  • Institutional Scholarships — Higher education institutions and their financial aid administrators award institutional scholarships. The money for these scholarships comes from:

    • Endowment funds,
    • Private sector funds, and
    • Donations.

    The amount awarded is primarily based on Cost of Attendance (COA), Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and enrollment status — although other factors may be taken into account.

    For more information on Cost of Attendance (COA) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC), visit AIE's "Applying For Financial Aid" page.

  • Private Sector Scholarships — Private foundations, companies, and service groups (e.g. Chambers of Commerce, Rotary and Lions Clubs, and many corporations and businesses) also award scholarships. There are thousands of these private sector scholarships available and the amount awarded varies widely depending on the provider.

    A few notes concerning Private Sector Scholarships:

    • If a student receives a private scholarship, the amount of loans he or she receives may be reduced by the school.
    • Students should notify the financial aid office of all scholarships they receive, and report them on the FAFSA for the year the scholarship award is received.
    • Private scholarships can be payable to the student, the college, or both.
    • Colleges have different policies on how funds are treated — students should check with the financial aid office to learn the school's policy.

Who is eligible for scholarships?

There are scholarships for all kinds of students. Many scholarships are merit based, meaning a student's academic achievement determines their eligibility for the scholarship and how much is awarded.

There are also scholarships available for:

  • Students with specific cultural backgrounds,
  • Students with certain academic and/or athletic abilities,
  • New or returning students, and
  • Graduate students.

Do your research!

You should never assume that you will not be eligible for a scholarship. There are many unique scholarships offered by a variety of sources that may want to invest in your higher education adventure — you may be surprised by what you find!

How do I find scholarships?

Your school's financial aid office has information about scholarships, and a staff member can help you determine your eligibility for certain ones. Most states and numerous private and/or public organizations also offer scholarships and grants.

Other tips for finding scholarships:

  • Research the phone book and library for service groups that raise scholarship money for local students.
  • Ask your employer or you parents' employer if they offer scholarship opportunities or tuition reimbursement.
  • Inquire about scholarship opportunities with your friends, neighbors, and a financial aid officer in the school you plan to attend.

Online scholarship search

There are many free scholarship searches located online that can help you find scholarships that match your qualifications.

Try using AIE's "Scholarship Search" for starters! Or, check out AIE's "Internet Resources" section for links to other pages that provide helpful financial aid information.

See also


Here are other documents located on AIE.org that you may be interested in: