Choosing the right scholarships to apply for can make a huge difference in funding your education. With so many scholarship opportunities available, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the options.
In this post, we will explore the different types of scholarships, key criteria to pay attention to, and recommend some top scholarships that are worthwhile for many students to consider applying for.
By understanding the landscape of scholarships, you can focus your efforts on the ones that offer you the best chance of receiving an award.
What is a Scholarship?
Let’s start with making sure we are all on the same page with definitions. A scholarship is a monetary award given by an organization or individual to support a student’s education.
Scholarships do not need to be repaid and can help offset tuition costs, fees, books, housing and other education-related expenses. Scholarships are primarily need-based, meaning they are awarded based on financial need, academic merit or special qualifications like talents, background or interests.
There are many sources that offer scholarships including:
- Colleges and universities: These scholarships are offered directly by the school and are the most common type. Awards are typically based on academics, talents, community service or leadership.
- Private organizations: Industries, non-profits, clubs and professional associations provide scholarships for students studying or entering specific fields. Popular examples include the Gates Millenium Scholars and Coca-Cola Scholars programs.
- Employers: Companies offer scholarships for dependents of employees, or for students pursuing careers relevant to the company.
- State/local governments: Many state and local agencies offer scholarships targeted at residents to support high need fields or retain talent within the state.
- Family foundations and service organizations: Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Lion’s Club, etc. provide community-based scholarships.
Always research eligibility criteria closely as requirements vary greatly between different scholarship programs. Knowing where and how to look will maximize your chances of finding awards you are qualified for.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Scholarships
When determining which scholarships to focus your efforts on, consider these key factors:
- Financial Need: Priority should go to large awards that will make a significant dent in your overall education costs. National/prestigious programs tend to offer higher award amounts.
- Academic Fit: Choose scholarships that match your intended major, career interests or academic strengths. Programs aimed at STEM or a specific profession are best if that is your path.
- Special Talents/Attributes: If you have unique talents, backgrounds or experiences, seek out opportunities that value those specifically like arts, athletics, ethnic or community-based programs.
- Deadlines: Work backwards from application due dates to plan ahead. Many top programs have winter/spring deadlines so start researching freshmen year.
- Renewability: Multi-year or renewable scholarships provide the most long-term benefits. Priority may be given to merit-based awards offered for all undergraduate years.
- Local Affordability: Consider in-state programs if cost of living is lower versus national awards where you may pay higher tuition as a non-resident.
Understanding these selection factors will help maximize the scholarships that are the best strategic fit and offer you the highest potential value. Now let’s explore some specific prominent scholarship opportunities:
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
- Award Amount: Up to $40,000 per year
- Eligibility: Community college transfer students with financial need and high academic achievement
- Deadline: Early March
This is considered one of the most prestigious national scholarships for transfer students. It provides generous funding of up to the full cost of attendance annually at any accredited undergraduate institution. Recipients must demonstrate financial need according to FAFSA data and have a minimum 3.5 GPA.
Tau Sigma National Honor Society Scholarship
- Award Amount: $2,500 – $5,000
- Eligibility: Membership in Tau Sigma National Honor Society for Transfer Students
- Deadline: Mid-February
While it requires previous honors society membership, this program awards multiple large scholarships each year. Recipients must be transferring from a two-year to four-year college with at least a 3.5 GPA and 30 credit hours completed. National membership provides networking benefits as well.
Gates Millennium Scholars
- Award Amount: Varies, renewable up to graduate level
- Eligibility: Underrepresented, low-income, high achieving U.S. citizens
- Deadline: Early January
This national program funded by the Gates Foundation provides outstanding support for underserved students in STEM fields. Recipients must demonstrate financial need, leadership and community service. Renewable awards can cover full college costs including graduate programs. Highly selective but worth applying.
Coca-Cola Scholars Program
- Award Amount: $20,000
- Eligibility: Achievement in academics, leadership and service
- Deadline: Mid-October
Another top national award, Coca-Cola Scholars recognize 200 high school seniors annually for their excellence in and out of the classroom. The non-renewable $20,000 prize is applicable to any U.S. college/university. Essays focus on leadership and community involvement.
Udall Undergraduate Scholarship
- Award Amount: $7,000
- Eligibility: Commitment to environment or Native American/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian students
- Deadline: Mid-February
Prospective sophomores or juniors engaged in environmental fields or Native American-related studies/careers are eligible for this strong federal scholarship. Renewable for two years, it recognizes both academics and commitment to relevant issues/careers. Uncommon focus areas.
Intel Science Talent Search
- Award Amount: $10,000-$100,000
- Eligibility: Original high school science research project
- Deadline: Early January
Funded by Intel, this partnership with Society for Science acknowledges top 40 science and math projects annually. Participants conduct independent research with potential awards up to full ride college scholarships. Projects focus on topics in computer science, math or bioscience. Excellent recognition for STEM talent.
Finding Your Best Fit
Once you research eligibility criteria carefully, your goal should be applying to 3-5 large well-matched scholarships, in addition to any programs through your college or state.
Strongly consider both early-deadline national programs as well as later options that could function as a fallback. Make use of online scholarship search tools like Cappex, Fastweb and Scholarships.com to easily explore hundreds more relevant to your profile.
Stand out in competitive applications with polished essays emphasizing how your background and goals directly align with the selection priorities of each program.
Your best chances come when addressing unique experiences and qualifications rather than generic achievements. Request proofreading help from advisors and mentors familiar with the application process.
With patience and perseverance, many students are able to piece together six-figure or full-ride scholarship packages to finance their higher education using some combination of awards.
By focusing strategically on the most appropriate scholarships based on the advice provided here, you maximize your potential to bring significant financial support to your educational goals and career ambitions.
With research and diligent applications, it’s possible to fund a meaningful portion of college costs from scholarships alone.