Mastering Scholarship Applications: Your Top 12 FAQs Answered

Keystone Financial Group |

Applying for college can be a convoluted and time-consuming process, with applications, essays, and financial aid forms to complete. However, it is also important not to forget about looking for ways to alleviate college costs by applying for appropriate scholarships.

While private scholarships will rarely cover the entire cost of college, they can be of great supplemental help when it comes to paying for college - especially if your student is able to receive several "stackable" awards.

It's no surprise that with today's high cost of college, scholarships are a hot topic, and we hear many questions about applying for scholarships from families who attend our college planning workshops.

Below are 12 of the most common questions we hear regarding scholarships – and some answers to help guide you throughout the process:

Q: How can I find out about what scholarships are available?

A: Your best scholarship research sources include:

  • Your local community (start with your local chamber of commerce, church, and local organizations you may be a part of);
  • the internet (try some of the many free scholarship search engines, such as the one that can be found at;
  • and your high school guidance counselor and/or college financial aid officer.

Q: Can I apply for a scholarship if I don’t know what college I’m going to attend?

A: Absolutely! You actually can (and should) start applying for scholarships as early as your freshman year in high school. If you win a scholarship before you know which college you’ll attend, the scholarship organization usually will either write you a check (with your assurance that you will use the money for college), or simply give you the money when you decide where to attend college.

Q: Should I have to pay a fee to apply for a scholarship?

A: In most cases, no. While there are a few exceptions, since scholarships are meant to support students who need funds to pay for college, they shouldn’t require those same students to shell out money. Usually, scholarships that require a fee are scams. Be aware, and avoid these types of programs!

Q: If I didn’t win a scholarship, can I apply again next year?

A: Usually, yes. Unless you no longer qualify for some reason, you can apply for the same scholarship again. However, consider whether or not your application will be dramatically stronger the next time around. If you will essentially submit the same application, you probably will be better off spending your time applying to a different scholarship competition.

Q: Can I lose my scholarship once it’s been awarded?

A: Yes. Most scholarships that are renewable, meaning that you may receive them for more than one year, will have requirements for you to keep the award. These may stipulate that you must continue to attend the same college, maintain a certain GPA, or keep the same major. If you fail to live up to the requirements, they may revoke the scholarship.

Q: Can I apply for scholarships while I’m a college student?

A: Certainly! In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that many students make is NOT applying for scholarships once they graduate from high school. There are literally thousands of scholarships available for students who are already in college - including some for graduate students. Look for scholarship opportunities through your college or university first, then consider outside sources, and continue to apply for more scholarships every year that you will be attending college to maximize your results.

Q: If I win a scholarship, will my college take away some of my other financial aid?

A: Quite possibly. Many colleges require you to report the scholarships that you win and then adjust your financial aid package. For example, if you win a $1,000 scholarship, the college may decrease your financial aid package by $1,000. However, if your college has this kind of policy, be sure to ask them to decrease your loan amount, instead of your grants. It’s better to receive more in scholarships, so that you don’t have to pay back loan money later!  And it is usually still worthwhile to apply anyway, because scholarships also look great on your resume.

Q: Can I transfer my scholarship if I go to another school?

A: Maybe. Of course, if the scholarship is from a specific college or an alumni organization, you can only use it at that college. However, if the scholarship is from another group, you can probably transfer the scholarship with you, as long as you still meet the eligibility requirements. However, don’t make any assumptions.  It’s important that you contact the awarding organization directly to ask and make any necessary arrangements.

Q: Should I even bother applying for scholarships if I don’t have perfect grades?

A: Most definitely – just do your research first! There are scholarships for all kinds of things, including achievements, leadership, public service, art, athletics, theater and dance, among others. Even the scholarships that are based on academic achievements are often not solely based on grade point averages. Instead, the scholarship boards may be seeking students who best fit their selection criteria, which may include other factors like character, motivation, leadership, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or involvement in specific activities. Find the scholarship/s that fit you best, and apply!

Q: Do all scholarships require an essay?

A: No, although most do. Essays are really the best (and often the only) way for scholarship judges to hear directly from you as an applicant, and to get to know you beyond your grades, test scores and other data that you provide on your application form. There are some types of scholarships that don’t require essays, however, especially those for art or music – which may require a portfolio, project or audition.

Q: Can I win a scholarship if my parents make a lot of money?

A: Yes. There are two types of scholarships: need-based and merit-based. As the name suggests, need-based scholarships are based on your financial need and your parents’ income. Merit-based scholarships are based on other factors such as academic or extracurricular achievements, and will not usually be affected by family income. (Contact us for a free evaluation to find out how we can potentially help you qualify for more of BOTH types of aid!)

Q: What is a renewable scholarship?

A: Renewable scholarships can be awarded once and then renewed in the following years. These are the best kind of scholarship, because you can win the money for more than one year! Just make sure that you live up to your end of the scholarship bargain as noted above, and you will receive additional money each year – typically for a defined period, such as 2 or 4 years.

On a final note, remember that while scholarships can be a wonderful way to help pay for college, award amounts may often be fairly small ($500 – $3,000 each). We recommend you apply for as many scholarships as possible (that you qualify for), but don’t spend all of your time here. Remember there are many other sources of financial aid to explore.

Contact us for a free family evaluation to find out how we can help you maximize your aid eligibility from all sources – not just scholarships!



The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for the purchase of any financial product. The statements and opinions expressed are those of the author and are subject to change at any time. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, presenting financial professional makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. This material has been prepared for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax or investment advice.