Applying for Scholarships: Common Questions & Answers
Last updated November 1, 2023
Here are some common questions students have when finding and applying for scholarships– and our answers!
When to apply
When should I start applying for scholarships?
We recommend starting your search the summer before your senior year of high school. If you find scholarships that aren’t open yet or aren’t due for a few months, be sure to save them to apply for later. The earlier you start your scholarship search, the sooner you can familiarize yourself with typical application requirements, begin brainstorming and drafting a personal statement that can be tailored to each scholarship you apply for, and give the people writing you letters of recommendation plenty of time and notice.
Should I apply for scholarships before or after I’m accepted to colleges?
Since there are so many scholarships out there with varying deadlines, we recommend both searching and applying before and after you’re accepted to colleges.
I’m already in college. Is it too late to apply for scholarships?
No! There are tons of scholarships out there available to students of all ages, demographics, years in school, areas of interest, and majors. It’s never too late to find money for college, so consistently searching for scholarships is key.
Where to look
Where should I look for scholarships?
Why not start your search on one of our hand-picked scholarship lists? We update each list frequently and thoroughly vet each scholarship before they’re added.
How do I know if a scholarship is legit?
There are some specific things to look out for when you come across a scholarship you’re interested in:
- Does the website list previous winners? Legit scholarships will typically list previous winners somewhere on their scholarship homepage, so if you can’t find that anywhere, it’s usually a red flag.
- Do you have to pay to apply? Legit scholarships will NEVER require payment when you apply. EVER. If you find a scholarship that requires payment, don’t apply.
Legit scholarships are transparent with applicants about required application materials, deadlines, timelines, and more. If you come across a scholarship or website that seems off, it probably is– so keep searching somewhere else. Always trust your gut and use your judgment!
FAFSA & state-based financial aid
Do I need to complete the FAFSA or state-based financial aid before applying for scholarships?
In most cases, yes.Many scholarships require applicants to complete the FAFSA before applying.
Because of this requirement, undocumented students may be a bit more restricted in what scholarships they can apply for. However, if you’re undocumented or can’t complete the FAFSA, you may be able to apply for certain scholarships once you’ve completed state-based financial aid (if your state offers it). Be sure to double-check the application requirements of the scholarships you’re interested in to learn more.
Does taking a gap year hurt my scholarship chances?
Potentially, yes. Some scholarships are only awarded to students transitioning directly from high school to college. If you already received a scholarship and now are considering taking a gap year, be sure to communicate clearly with the scholarship organization about your plans. They may not be able to award you the money until you begin college.
How can I stay organized when applying for scholarships?
We can help! Use our scholarship application requirements tracker to stay organized while you search and apply.
Do I have to re-apply for scholarships every school year?
It depends on the scholarship. Some are one-time scholarships. Others may be eligible for renewal each term or school year depending on requirements such as grades, GPA, and more. If you receive a scholarship, be sure to ask about any renewal requirements you will need to follow.
Are scholarships universally accepted by all colleges? How are they processed?
They should be. Private scholarships will likely mail a check to you that you can use to pay your student balance. The scholarship organization may also send it directly to your college. If they can’t process it, be sure to talk to someone who represents the private scholarship as well as a financial aid officer at your school to troubleshoot. Scholarships awarded directly to you by your college or university will be applied to your student balance.
Are there scholarships for students with GPAs less than 3.0?
Of course! Google “scholarships with no GPA requirements” or check out Niche’s list to start your search.
Do most scholarships require test scores?
Each scholarship will have different application requirements, so be sure to thoroughly read them before applying. Some may require SAT or ACT scores, while others won’t.
How long should my scholarship application essay be?
It depends on the scholarship you’re applying for. If you’re required to write an essay, the scholarship should give you clear instructions on how to write and submit it. They should also state which prompt(s) your essay should follow and if there is a specific word or paragraph count. If you can’t find this information easily, email the scholarship organization to learn more.
Can I reuse letters of recommendation to apply for scholarships?
Typically yes– but always:
- Check in with the person who wrote you a letter of recommendation to give them a head’s up before submitting it. This way they’ll be prepared in case someone from the scholarship organization reaches out to them.
- Be sure the letter of recommendation doesn’t reference a different scholarship.