How Do Scholarships Work?

College scholarships are a convenient way to pay for college, but many students are confused about how the whole process works. How is the money awarded, and what can you spend it on?

What is a college scholarship?
Scholarships are financial awards designed to help students pay for college. Sometimes a scholarship is a one-time check. Some college scholarships are renewable and provide money for students each semester or school year.

These awards differ from student loans in that they don’t have to be repaid. Students may receive the money directly as a check in their name. In other cases the money is given to the student’s college. In these cases, the student would then pay the college for the difference on any money owed for tuition, fees, room and board.

How can the money be spent?
Scholarship checks awarded in your name can be spent on anything, but you would be wise to look at this as an investment and not a free pass to splurge on video games or concert tickets. This money is for school expenses. This could mean tuition, but it could also be books, pencils, housing, food (you can’t study on an empty stomach), or even computers and software.

When you receive the scholarship money depends on the scholarship you’ve been awarded. Sometimes you get the money in one chunk before school begins, and in other cases the money is distributed in installments. Sometimes a scholarship may be paid out in the middle of a semester.

Who gets scholarships? Where do they come from?
Scholarships come from a variety of different sources, including clubs, organizations, charities, businesses, schools, the government, and individuals. Colleges and universities offer financial assistance in the form of merit aid as well, so don’t forget to contact potential schools you may attend to see if you qualify for any.

College scholarships aren’t just awarded to students with a 4.0 GPA. Each scholarship has its own objective. Some scholarships are awarded based on need. For others you must be a member of an organization, be studying a certain field, or fit whatever guidelines the group awarding the money decides upon. Regardless of whether you excel in academics, you should be able to find several scholarships that work for you. There are even scholarships intended for students living in a particular state or town. You can continue to apply for scholarships during your college years all the way up to Ph.D. level studies.

Although searching for scholarships takes a lot of time, it’s not an impossible feat. Just beware: You should never pay money to anyone or to any group to apply for or receive a college scholarship. These awards exist to give you money, not take it away.

When you’re ready to find scholarships, visit Cappex to create your free profile and search our growing database of scholarship opportunities and other college resources.