What Is a Scholarship?


schol·ar·ship noun

1. Academic study or achievement; learning of a high level
2. A grant or payment made to support a student’s education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement

Of the several definitions you may find in the dictionary of scholarship, it is the second definition above that concerns this blog and of course, all things Cappex.

Scholarships are funds awarded to students for educational expenses that do not have to be repaid. Navigating the world of scholarships can be tricky, because several types of awards exist, including grants, tuition waivers, forgivable loans, merit aid, and private scholarships. These can be awarded based on merit, financial need, community service and volunteer work, unique attributes, or a combination of all of these. Here is a run-down of scholarships and other common college financial assistance opportunities you may encounter.

Private Scholarships

Don’t let the name fool you. Perhaps the most accessible type of award, private scholarships are administered by groups such as national or local organizations, community foundations, high schools, corporations, individuals, or employers. All students are welcome to apply to private scholarships if they meet the given criteria. Private scholarships are usually awarded based on an individual’s achievements and unique qualifying criteria, such as community service, work history, gender, ethnic heritage, age, special talents, and much more. Financial need may or may not be a requirement. Awards can range from a little as $50 to more than $20,000.

Most organizations require students to complete an application and submit a personal statement or response to an essay question. In addition, a handful of organizations administer scholarships that have a “non-traditional” application process.  Non-traditional scholarships include components such as long essays, book essays, research projects, science projects, or community service projects.  There are also scholarship competitions for subjects such as science, math, history, and engineering; these competitions might require original research and a high level of involvement, but don’t let this discourage you. Because scholarships like these require more effort, fewer students apply, therefore you most likely have a better chance of winning.

Other Forms of Financial Assistance

Merit Aid

These scholarships are offered by the college or university you applied to or are attending. Many are renewable each year and are usually awarded to more than one student. Merit aid is often awarded without regard to financial need; instead, awards are based on academic and athletic achievement, special talents, or demographic characteristics.


Grants are similar to scholarships because those who receive them do not have to pay them back. Grants are usually funded by the federal or state government. There are only a certain number of grants that are guaranteed by the government for students who meet certain requirements. Many grants are specifically designed for minority and low-income students. State grants may have conditions such as attending a college or university in-state or pursuing an educating with the purpose of serving one of the state’s specific needs. Colleges, universities, and public and private organizations can also fund grants. Grants funded by non-profit organizations are usually for a specific project or research purposes if the recipient(s) meets certain criteria. Students who are interested in applying for grants should complete and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Forgivable Loans

Forgivable loan programs are loans made for use at post-secondary institutions with the understanding that if you meet certain requirements, either during school or after graduation, repayment of the loan is not required. If you come across a forgivable loan, be sure to read the fine print and understand all the obligations that need to be met. Possible obligations could include service requirements or agreeing to work in a particular field or within a geographic area for a certain amount of time.

Tuition Waivers

Tuition waivers are state aid that reduces or eliminates the tuition you must pay to enroll in courses at a post-secondary institution. Eligibility for these funds vary from state to state. Some programs allow for students to attend a school in any state, while some require students to attend select in-state public schools.


Work-study awards  provide jobs for students who need help with college expenses. If you are interested in work-study, you must complete the FAFSA to be considered. Those who demonstrate financial need may qualify for a federal work-study program and can find on- or off-campus jobs; most off-campus jobs will be at non-profit agencies. Non-federal work-study programs are not based on financial need and can be completed through on-campus employment opportunities at your school.


Now that you have a better understanding of the most common financial assistance opportunities that exist, identify and apply to those that are best suited to your situation. While it’s difficult to find scholarships that will cover college expenses entirely, each form of financial assistance can complement one another – so be sure to pursue as many financial aid options as you can.