5 Types of Scholarships for College: The Ultimate Guide

By | February 20, 2024

When it comes to winning scholarships, the common advice is to apply early and often. But with tons of opportunities across the country, experts say students should make a strategic plan. The U.S. News Scholarship Finder, for example, can be a resource to locate awards, but no one has time to apply to all of the database’s more than 15,000 scholarships. Instead, students can narrow their focus to those for which they are eligible.

  1. Scholarships for Under-represented Students

Scholarships for under-represented students are designed to help qualified applicants who may not otherwise be given the opportunity to attend college. Often, these scholarships require students to submit essays and engage in an interview process.

Generally, winners of these scholarships also have to maintain a certain grade point average or receive certain grades in their coursework. Clemson University, American Progress “Black Women Don’t Get Enough Recognition or Support.” For Black students, achieving financial security often means overcoming discrimination. Scholarships for Black Students bring attention to obstacles that can limit that path to achievement.

  1. National Merit Scholarships

National Merit Scholarships for 2017 High School Scholarship After applying to college, students typically have two years to finish classes and take the ACT or SAT. To earn a scholarship for taking this test, students need to be a sophomore or higher, take the test during the early application period in January and get a score in the top band.

About one-third of finalists are named National Merit Scholars, but about a third of eligible students miss out. Getting a score that qualifies for a scholarship is no easy feat: Students need to score in the top two percent of scorers nationally on the exam. About 50 percent of finalists from previous years were named National Merit Scholars.

  1. Ethnic Scholarships

Historically, universities only awarded scholarships to students of their own race, which limited minorities’ access to higher education. In 2016, for example, about 90 percent of African American students who graduated high school received a university degree, compared to 76 percent of whites. According to Carol McDaniel, vice president of Student Affairs at the International Black College Alumni Association, the best strategy to get into a top university is to “take advantage of the grant opportunities.

The money might not be as much, but getting it through an increase in the number of black students would be huge.” Get In-State Tuition in Several States Focusing on a few areas may help students find scholarships that are more in line with their personal goals.

  1. Athletic Scholarships

The NCAA sponsors 1,700 scholarships for student athletes. Any sport at any level can be represented, and some athletic scholarships do not require standardized test scores or grade-point averages. But others do.

“We have a donor pool that doesn’t require GPA or SAT scores, but they do look for letters of recommendation and student recommendations,” said Amanda Strosahl, associate director of communications and membership for USA Track & Field. “They tend to like to see students who have the ability to contribute to their community.” Early access to the national level is just one benefit of signing up for Track & Field USA’s scholarship program.

  1. Community Service Scholarships

The average maximum award is $1,150, according to a U.S. News analysis of data from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. However, awards typically range from $500 to $5,000. In a statement, Gina Miller, head of the Scholarship and Advocacy Office for the University of Maryland’s College of Education, says about 80 percent of students who apply for the school’s $500 awards are awarded them, and roughly one-third of those students have a family income of $30,000 or less.

Yale University’s award for service students ranges from $500 to $5,000 for the current year. Students’ service projects are evaluated by a panel of faculty and staff volunteers. Princeton University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago all award $500 to $2,000 to service-oriented students.


With scholarships from colleges, small organizations and big corporations, there’s a scholarship out there for everyone. How students approach this process will vary widely. If they have a clear goal and determine their ideal fit, students can easily navigate the choices on the market.

The best way to find competitive scholarships, experts say, is to choose a field of study, one you plan to pursue at a college or university. These scholarships, sometimes called “career” or “direct line” scholarships, can be tailored to fit your college degree or your future career.

For example, the Wells Fargo Scholarship Program might focus on your future career as a financial planner. Specific types of scholarships also change over time, and by understanding the landscape, students and parents can stay on top of the newest opportunities.

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