What Is a Scholarship and How Do Scholarships Work?

Wondering to yourself, "what is a scholarship, exactly? How do scholarships work?" Well, no longer! We explain it all in detail in this post.

There is over $46 billion in grants and scholarships available every year—and that’s just from the United States.

Countless scholarships divide up this massive pool of money. People earn scholarships for a wide variety of things. If you are going to college or have a child that is, you may be wondering how do scholarships work?

Scholarships form a part of the school financing system in the form of awarded money. The market for scholarship money is very competitive. Scholarships are given out for a huge range of things, not just academic achievement. 

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What Is a Scholarship?

A scholarship is a set amount of money awarded for academic, personal, immutable, or athletic reasons. This money is then applied to the cost of going to college. There are also scholarships for special programs and schools before college, but those work the same way. 

Those who need money for college apply for scholarships, and the need is greater than ever. One reason for this is that a college education continues to get more expensive. Those who could afford college even ten years ago aren’t able to do so today. 

Types of Scholarships

Scholarships break down into several categories. 

Each one has its own criteria and targets that you must reach to qualify. If you were to list all of the types of college scholarships, your list would be very long. These are the types of scholarships that you’re most likely to encounter. 

1. Academic Scholarships

Students who worked hard at academic achievement are eligible for academic scholarships. Getting high grades can earn good scholarships that can pay for most of a college education. That is unusual, though. There are also scholarships for those who only have average performance in academics. 

2. Personal Scholarships

These are scholarships that are often supported by organizations or individuals. They focus on personal goals, beliefs, and achievements. Community service scholarships are a great example of this. These scholarships can also be very strange or amusing in nature as well. They still provide needed funding for colleges and universities. 

3. Immutable Characteristic Scholarships

These are a type of scholarship that is offered to people of certain groups. Some of these scholarships are targeted towards women or people of color. There are a lot of niche scholarships in this category as well that can be based on ethnicity or place of origin. 

4. Athletic and Activity Scholarships

These are scholarships given out for athletic achievement. Well known sports with professional leagues such as basketball and football are often spoken of, but many sports are represented. Wrestling, swimming, and other Olympic sports also have large and popular scholarship pools to check into. 

Activity-based scholarships are common in performing arts. Drama, music, and even activities like debate offer scholarships. These can be more targeted. Just like athletic scholarships, many require constant work and staying in the activity awarded for. 

Financial Aid vs Scholarships

What’s the difference between financial aid vs scholarships?

Financial aid is an intrinsic part of going to college. Even under the best circumstances, there are very few full-ride scholarships available of any type. Many people will try to get as many scholarships as possible and also apply for financial aid. 

Scholarships are different than financial aid because they never have to be paid back. Most financial aid comes in the form of loans which will carry a balance and interest payment with them. The only exception to this is grants which are given out for various reasons but are more like scholarships. 

Financial aid eligibility also considers the general net worth of your family. Scholarships don’t often do that, though there are some that are targeted to disadvantaged populations. There is no set criteria for scholarships, and so their requirements are determined by those who fund or set them up. 

Who Funds Scholarships?

In understanding how do scholarships work, you have to look at how they’re funded. Businesses, individuals, and other entities are often behind scholarships. These can be based on anything from memorial funds to ideological similarities. 

Most scholarships are funded by organizations and groups through a variety of investments, donations, and government grants. The organizing body that gives out the scholarship then places requirements upon that scholarship that are commiserate with the beliefs and goals of those they represent. 

Other Scholarship Options

Some scholarships are awarded to those who intern with a company, and internships are also a viable solution for both in school and after school consideration. There are a lot of benefits to an internship, and you should explore all your options. 

The type of internship you get will also impact if it will be beneficial to your college education. Not all internships come with any additional funds. Many are for you to get experience before you graduate in the field that you chose to study. 

How to Get Scholarships?

More than just knowing how to scholarships work, you will have to pursue your opportunity. Very few scholarships are automatically awarded, and most require that you submit essays, examples of your work, or achieve certain goals. 

If you’re going for an academic scholarship, you will need to concentrate and study hard. No matter what type of scholarship you’re interested in, you need to set yourself ahead of the pack. This means performing well in activities, extra volunteer time, or practicing sports like a religion. 

Doing this will help you ensure that you have the best chance of receiving help possible. Improving your odds is the best way to reduce the amount of debt college will cause you to have. Graduating with an extreme amount of debt can make success much more difficult. 

You can also use Goodwall to build a web profile that will help you apply for scholarships, of course!

🎁 Click here to get our FREE scholarship application tracker! This spreadsheet will help you keep tabs on where and when you applied so you don’t miss any opportunities. Click on “File” > “Make a copy” to save it to your Google Drive for your own use. Good luck!

Scholarships and Your College Career

Whenever possible, you should try to qualify for as many scholarships as you can. This will save you the possible financial ruin of over-borrowing for school. So, how do scholarships work? The cornerstone is that they provide financial assistance that doesn’t need to be returned.

The Goodwall Blog tries to provide knowledge and opportunity to those who are interested. Keep checking up with us for tips, strategies, and opportunities you may not have access to otherwise. Earn what you can, borrow what you must, and make your future your own.

Well, that’s it for our short definition of scholarships, what a scholarship is, and how scholarships work. We hope it’s helped you! If you have any questions, feedback, or other points to add about our scholarship definition, let us know below in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Related Read: When to Apply for Scholarships? How to Find the Best Time (w/ Tips!)

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Kyiv, Ukraine after living in Warsaw, Poland for the past 4 years. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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