Get the Financial Help You Need
Scholarships are financial aid or access awards presented to students who need help meeting tuition costs or other education-related expenses, or who have earned a financial reward through exceptional academic achievement or performance. Some scholarships and grants are applied automatically towards your tuition fees, while you are free to spend others on education-related expenses as you see fit.
Classifications of Scholarships
Broadly speaking, there are four different types of scholarships: merit-based, need-based, student-based and career-specific academic scholarships.
Merit-based scholarships are earned through exceptional performance, as defined by preexisting criteria. These scholarships can be offered by the government, the educational institution or private sources. The PSAT test is a good example of a standard for merit-based scholarships — students scoring in the 99th percentile become semifinalists for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship Program.
Need-based scholarships are free college scholarships awarded to students who display strong academic potential yet lack the financial means to realize it. For example, many study abroad scholarships are awarded on the basis of financial need.
Student-based scholarships are awarded to students of a particular gender, race or type. For example, there are scholarships for women in non-traditional programs (such as engineering programs, which are traditionally dominated by males). Minority scholarships also fall into this category.
Finally, career scholarships are awarded to students in need who are on specific career paths. Nursing scholarships, medical scholarships and writing scholarships are three examples of these.
How to Find Scholarships
An excellent place to begin your search is to contact your school's student financial aid office. Counselors there have the resources to direct you to scholarships that you qualify for whether they're offered through government, the school or private agencies.
The Internet is also a very good place to expand your search. Many scholarship websites allow you to enter specific criteria, such as your age, gender, course of study and financial need, to automatically match you with a list of scholarships you qualify for. You can then apply for as many as you want.
Keep in mind that scholarship applications usually have additional criteria, such as essays and letters of recommendation. Don't leave your search until the last minute, or you may not have time to do everything you need to do to apply properly.