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Apply for Scholarships

Learn about the different types of college scholarships from Frank Palmasani

computer libraryA lot of students look to scholarships to help off-set some of their college tuition costs. But what you might not know is that different types of scholarships are available to you, and you have a better chance of winning certain types.

There are basically two types of scholarships—merit scholarships and private scholarships.

Merit Scholarships

Merit scholarships are awarded to you by a college based on your skills, not based on your financial need. There are three types of merit scholarships:

Academic Scholarships

Academic scholarships are based on factors like your high school GPA, ACT or SAT test scores, and class rank. Private colleges and non-flagship state schools most often award academic scholarships.

Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are usually awarded to students who play sports at NCAA Division I and II schools and NAIA schools. For more information on athletic scholarships, check out The Sports Scholarships Insider’s Guide.

Scholarships for Other Special Talents

This type of award varies greatly, so you need to check college websites to see what opportunities are available.

Tips for Getting Merit Scholarships

  • Fill out the FAFSA—some colleges require the FAFSA to be considered for merit aid
  • Look everywhere—search college websites to see all the merit awards each school offers
  • Apply to the right colleges—you’re more likely to receive a merit scholarship when you’re in the top 25% academically
  • Ask about renewal terms—you might need to maintain a certain GPA throughout college to keep your award

Private Scholarships

Private scholarships are awarded to you by businesses, agencies, organizations, and clubs to use during college. There are five types of private scholarships.

Local Scholarships

Local scholarships are usually only available to students in your high school, so you have a better chance of getting one of these scholarships compared to a scholarship that every student in the country can apply for.

Regional Scholarships

Regional scholarships are available to students within a specific county, city, or state. These are more competitive than local scholarships, but you still have a better chance at success for regional scholarships than for national scholarships.

National Scholarships

National scholarships are available to every student in the country and are publicized widely online, so these are very difficult to get since so many people apply. But just because they’re difficult to get, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply. You should try to apply for any scholarships that you’re eligible for.

Workplace Scholarships

Workplace scholarships are available through some companies to the children of employees. Make sure to check with your parents’ work to see if any scholarships are available.

Military Scholarships

Military scholarships are available to students who are admitted to a U.S. service academy (like West Point), join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and serve as an officer in the armed services after college, or enlist after high school and receive tuition assistance after they’re discharged.

Tips for Getting Private Scholarships

  • Look everywhere—register with scholarship search websites, check your high school guidance office for local scholarships, research regional and state scholarships through your state’s official website, check with your parents’ work…seriously, look everywhere you can think of.

Need help getting started with your private scholarship search?

Check out this page about How to Start Your Scholarship Search by Diane Melville.

learn more about scholarships


About the Author

Frank Palmasani has helped families work through the college financial aid system for more than 30 years. He is committed to helping all families create a plan for finding the right colleges, without taking on mountains of debt.

Frank Palmasani is the creator of the Financial Fit® program and the author of Right College, Right Price.