Types of Scholarships for College Students

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the wide world of scholarships. We discover the differences between scholarships and grants before exploring some general categories of scholarships.


Are you a high schooler planning to go to college sometime soon? If so, you have likely heard up and down about all the money you will have to pay and all the debt you will have to assume. It can be a scary prospect.

But you may not have to pay all that money yourself if you are savvy about it. There are ways you can get other people and organizations to pay for your education, and there are more than you think. In this lesson we will discuss one of these ways: scholarships.

Scholarships vs. Grants

The two best ways to go about getting someone else to pay for school are grants and scholarships. Both are essentially free money. However, the two differ considerably in terms of who offers them and the strings attached to the money. For example, grants are generally given out by the federal government, though some state governments also give out grants. Grants are given to students based on various criteria, such as the income level of a student's family.

Scholarships, on the other hand, often have to be ''won.'' Unlike grants where students simply apply, scholarships often require not just an application but also an essay or other material to demonstrate why the organization should invest in a student's future. While grants are typically given out by the federal government, scholarships are given out by all sorts of national, state, and local organizations, both public and private. Additionally, they target all sorts of different categories and groups of people - from different races or ethnicities, to individuals with unique interests and hobbies.

Scholarships also may have more strings attached than grants. For example, if a scholarship is disbursed over multiple years, it is not uncommon for scholarship recipients to be required to maintain a higher grade point average than the minimum needed to continue receiving a federal grant. Scholarship recipients might also be required to continue participating in a particular activity. For example, for someone to continue receiving an athletic scholarship, they almost always have to continue representing the school in their sport.

Scholarship Types

Scholarships come in all different shapes and sizes. Here are some of the basic categories to help us make sense of the wide world of scholarships.


Academic scholarships are one of the most common types and are often awarded based on a student's academic performance in high school. Extracurricular activities and other student pursuits can also factor into a student's ability to win an academic scholarship. Some schools and organizations even offer scholarships to students who are already pursuing majors in fields like economics, engineering and computer science. Students who win academic scholarships will sometimes be required to maintain certain grades in order to keep the scholarship or win it again in successive years.


Athletic scholarships are, unsurprisingly, for athletes. Depending on the sport you play or the region you live in, athletic scholarships can be tremendously competitive and difficult to get. In many sports, less than 10% of high school athletes go on to compete at the collegiate level, and even fewer do so on scholarship. Nonetheless, if you excel at a certain sport, an athletic scholarship may be right for you.

Government Scholarships

Some local and state governments offer scholarships to students based on a range of factors, from family income to high school performance. Your guidance counselor should have information on what government scholarships are available in your state or region.

Community Service

Community service scholarships can be of two types. They are awarded to students who have completed a large amount of community service in their city or town, or they are awarded to students who make a commitment to complete a certain amount of community service while they are in school. Sometimes they are awarded to students who meet both criteria.

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