You want to go to college, but there’s a giant in the way.
It’s a massive price tag hovering over you.
Do you go into debt with a student loan? Do you switch schools?
Scholarships can be the best way to tackle that giant.
In this article, we list the best scholarship opportunities as well as some useful tips.
Let's dive in!
4 Things To Consider Before Applying for Scholarships
Many scholarships come with eligibility requirements—whether that’s a personality trait, ethnicity, financial need, GPA, or community service. Get to know yourself, your background, and your goals before you apply so you’re aware of what scholarship opportunities you’re eligible for.
2. Application Requirements
Some scholarships require testing, essays, online forms, academic projects, and more. Make sure you do the research so you know what it entails. You may have to start as early as 2-3 years before you apply to college to meet all the requirements.
All scholarships will have deadlines you’ll need to meet. Many of them will fall at the beginning of your high school senior year when you’re applying for colleges so you can easily organize it all. However, some will have much earlier deadlines. Make sure you double check.
4. Financial Aid
Some scholarship money is a one-time award whereas some is renewable. Some you can apply for only once’ others you can apply for every academic year. Read the fine print to understand what you will be awarded and when, if you’re successful. And please remember, no accredited scholarship will ever ask you to pay to apply.
Best College and College Application Scholarships
Trustee, Presidential, & Dean’s Scholarships at USC Dornsife
Amount: Trustee 100% tuition, Presidential 50% tuition, Dean’s 25% tuition
The University of Southern California (USC) has an excellent scholarship program offered to all US and international students. Its only requirement is you apply to USC before December 1 of your application year, and you’re automatically considered. In offering the scholarships, the university looks for academic excellence, leadership, and community service.
Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholarships at Wake Forest University
Amount: 100% tuition and stipend
This scholarship is perfect for creative leaders, promising scholars, and society-conscious students.
Eligible students show they:
Rank top among peers
Demonstrate leadership in extracurriculars
Have earned regional, state, or national recognition for their pursuits
Students need only submit their college application for undergraduate admission at Wake Forest by November 15 of their application year.
Morehead-Cain Scholarship at the University of North Carolina
Amount: 100% tuition and funded activities
For students looking for more than a college experience, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship goes well beyond a fully funded college experience. It sets your potential free by funding life-changing summer enrichment, extracurricular learning experiences, and lifetime connections to a community of Morehead-Cain scholars.
US or international students are both eligible, but they must:
Demonstrate leadership, character, scholarship, and physical vigor
Be nominated by their high school
Apply to UNC Chapel Hill as well as the Morehead-Cain Scholarship
College Board BigFuture Scholarships
Amount: $500 and $40,000
From The College Board, the company that makes the SAT, is BigFuture. BigFuture is an essential digital resource for high school students looking for scholarships. BigFuture scholarships are open to all students with a College Board account who attend a US high school.
All you have to do is complete various steps on BigFuture to be automatically entered into drawings for multiple $500 and $40,000 scholarships. The required steps, such as building a college list, practicing for the SAT, and completing the FAFSA, are all steps you should already be completing as part of your college applications.
You can also use BigFuture as a way to apply for multiple scholarships at the same time. Through BigFuture you can search through over $4 billion in scholarships to find those that you are eligible for.
Best Scholarships for Academic Excellence and Leadership
National Merit Scholarship
In previous years, The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) has awarded scholarships valued at around $39 million to over 8,500 qualified students. Students eligible to apply are those in their junior year with an exceptional academic track record at school and excellent results on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).
Once qualified, NMSC finalists are chosen based on their:
Davidson Institute Fellows Scholarship
Amount: $10,000, $20,000, and $50,000
Do you have a real depth of knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Literature, Music and Philosophy? Have you created meaningful work that has the potential to make a positive contribution to society? Then the Davidson Institute Fellows Scholarship could be for you.
The application process is substantial because each category has different requirements, but so is the reward. If you’re looking to find your niche in your field of study, this could be the perfect opportunity to do so—and hopefully, pay for college along the way.
GE Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program
Amount: $10,000 (renewable each year up to $40,000 per recipient)
One of the best scholarships for student leaders, the GE Reagan Foundation Scholarship program is for undergraduate college-bound students who demonstrate exemplary leadership, drive, integrity, and citizenship at school, at the workplace, and within their community.
To be eligible, you must be a US citizen, a current high school senior, and plan to enroll in a full-time undergraduate course of study toward a bachelor’s degree. Beyond the annual $10,000 gift, scholars also have access to a special awards program and receive ongoing leadership development support throughout their college careers.
Best Low-Income Scholarships
Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans National Scholarship
For students who are US citizens, enrolled as juniors, demonstrate critical financial need ($55,000 or lower family income), and have overcome challenges to become successful leaders, the Horatio Alger National Scholarship is an exceptional opportunity.
Integrity, perseverance, and community awareness are all essential qualities to be considered for this generous scholarship. Other opportunities through the same association include:
State Scholarships (up to $10,000)
Career & Technical Scholarships (up to $2,500)
University-specific Targeted Scholarships (up to $50,000)
Ron Brown Scholarship
Amount: $10,000 per year (up to $40,000)
Honoring the legacy of Ronald H. Brown, the first African-American politician to be the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, this scholarship aims to advance higher education for community-minded, economically-challenged, and intellectually gifted African Americans.
Eligible students are:
Current high school seniors
Passionate about public service, community engagement, business entrepreneurship and global citizenship
QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship
Amount: over $200,000 (full cost of attendance for a four-year college)
Designed for students from low-income families and who excel academically, QuestBridge National College Match is a pathway to top colleges, including Amherst, Brown, Claremont McKenna, Grinnell, MIT, Tufts, USC, Wellesley and more.
Eligible students must demonstrate a strength in character and motivation to succeed despite financial hardship and be:
The Gates Scholarship
Amount: over $200,000 (full cost of attendance for a four-year college)
Every year, 300 student leaders are awarded the Gates Scholarship to help them realize their maximum potential through college and beyond. Eligible students must be Pell-eligible high school seniors from African-American, American Indian, Asian American and/or Hispanic American ethnicity, and have:
An outstanding academic record
Demonstrated leadership ability
Exceptional personal success skills
Best Scholarships for Working Students
Starbucks College Achievement Plan
Amount: 100% tuition
Employees at Starbucks, working part- or full-time, can receive 100% tuition for a bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University’s online program. With a choice of over 100 majors, students can work, study and succeed.
To be eligible, you must:
Amazon Career Choice Program with Outlier
Amount: 100% tuition
Amazon employees have an opportunity to earn a college degree and advance their career through Outlier.org and Golden Gate University. The Degrees+ Program offers students the the ability to earn an associate degree and a resume-building career certificate all paid for by Amazon.
While working for Amazon you can earn a degree on your own schedule. All of the Degrees+ courses are 100% online and asynchronous, meaning you set the time to focus on school. All credits you earn are transferable and accredited so you can take them with you should you decided to pursue an advanced degree in the future.
Best Scholarships for Graduate Students
Fulbright Commission Post-Graduate Scholarship Awards
Amount: 100% tuition & living costs
The US-UK Fulbright Program was designed to foster cultural understanding between the US and the UK. For graduate students looking to pursue degrees in the UK, several awards are available. The All Disciplines Award can be applied to any master’s or doctoral degree, but there are also several university and degree-specific awards as well.
Eligible students must:
Successful students will have access to a global alumni network with over 300,000 academically accomplished members.
Rhodes Trust Scholarship at Oxford University
Amount: 100% tuition
One of the oldest international scholarship programs in the world (established 1903), the Rhodes Trust Scholarship is for graduate students looking to study at Oxford University. Eligible students must be US citizens and have completed an undergraduate degree.
They must also demonstrate academic excellence, truth, courage, devotion to duty, kindliness, unselfishness, fellowship, moral force of character and instinct to lead through global challenges.
7 Scholarship Application Tips
1. Start early
It’s never too early to start thinking and preparing for scholarships—you might even find a passion project or discover new skills along the way.
These are the pillars of many scholarships. The more you can demonstrate these activities in your applications, the more successful you will be.
3. Get organized
Add your deadlines to your calendars, write a list of requirements, and make a plan. You are far more likely to be successful if you’re organized with all your scholarship (and college) applications.
4. Understand the requirements
Don’t apply for scholarships you’re not eligible for. Don't forget to include essays or recommendations. And don’t leave boxes empty on an online form. Read through everything you can before you start applying so you know what’s expected of you.
5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Make sure you apply to a range of scholarships and still apply for the FAFSA.
6. Keep it personal
If you’re asked to write application essays, make sure you show what makes you unique (and don’t forget to proofread).
7. Stay positive
If you are unsuccessful, try again and try something different. Don’t lose hope!
College Scholarship FAQs
How can I increase my chances of getting a scholarship?
Be organized and do the research. Many scholarships are out there, like ones for military spouses or awards for single moms. But you need to ensure you have enough time to search and apply for them in your high school senior year.
It’s completely worth looking a few years before you apply in case there are specific eligibility requirements. Equally, it’s worth looking after you’ve become a college student—there are even more scholarship opportunities for college students than high school students.
What is the easiest scholarship to get?
There are no guarantees. The easiest scholarships to apply for are ones that require you to do no more than simply apply. For example, applying by USC’s December 1 deadline or applying via College Board’s BigFuture—you’re already going through the steps, why not do it in an organized way?
Applying for grants is also an easy way for students to get money to help pay for college. Millions of dollars in grants are available each year, and often, this money is accessible to anyone who applies.
Can I apply for more than one scholarship?
Absolutely! All colleges and scholarship providers understand you will be looking for different ways to pay for your education. Most students will use a combination of college-awarded financial aid, work-study programs, scholarships, and family contributions.
About the Author
Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2023).
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