One great way to enhance your chance of winning a college scholarship is to apply for a prize that best suits your student profile. Put simply, all scholarships are not created equal. There are countless types of scholarships available in the world and they reward very different things.

For example, you may have a strong grade point average (GPA), but you may not be competitive in other areas like extracurricular activities. You may have incredible leadership experience in and outside of school, but may not have the best grades in your class. In another case, you may not have the means to pay for expensive college costs and are looking to fill the funding gap with scholarship money.

Knowing what to look for and what to avoid when searching for scholarships can help empower you to find the right scholarships to apply for. This starts with a good understanding of scholarships by type. Here’s a breakdown that can help you navigate your college scholarship search and pay for your college education!

Merit-Based Scholarships

These scholarships are awarded to students who display excellence in academic or extracurricular achievement in high school or while attending college. If you have an exceptional GPA or have scored well on standardized tests, you may be eligible for an academic scholarship.

Other merit-based scholarships reward you for outstanding extracurricular activities, particularly in the categories of leadership, innovation, and community service.

Merit-based scholarships can be lucrative, and they are typically competitive. National merit scholarship competitions tend to attract motivated high school seniors and college students who have an impeccable track record.

Needs-Based Scholarships

These scholarships are for students whose income falls under a particular threshold. The official household income that qualifies a student for a particular prize can be found in each scholarship’s eligibility criteria.

Most needs-based scholarships will ask for family income statements and a budget forecasting expenses for the current or upcoming academic year. This is where students can outline all college costs including tuition, books, residence fees, etc.

In the US, students may have to fill out the FAFSA and show that they qualify for financial aid. In other countries like Canada, students may have to apply for government student loans. For example, students in the province of Ontario may have to qualify for student aid through the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) in order to meet eligibility criteria for a needs-based scholarship. Many colleges and universities have needs-based scholarship or college grant programs, so check with your institution if you’re already an undergraduate student. There may be prizes you can win to help offset the cost of college.

Student-Specific Scholarships

Student specific scholarships tend to have unique mandates that invest in students for a wide variety of reasons. Some of these reasons include gender, race, religion, family, and medical history.

For example, there are scholarship prizes specifically for Hispanic Students, African-American students, scholarships for women or women in science, scholarships based on ethnicity, scholarships for immigrants, minority scholarships, scholarships for veterans or military scholarships, travel abroad scholarships, local scholarships (awarded to students in a particular town or county), and even scholarships for students have specific medical ailments (for example, Crohn’s and Colitis, various mental health diagnoses, etc.).

There are also other kinds of unique scholarships, like those for bird watchers or for tall people. In short, if you’re part of any community, no matter how obscure you may think it is, chances are that a scholarship exists for students like you (there are many weird scholarships available that may surprise you!). Communities of all kinds want to invest in students who share their values, so do a search based on your various affiliations because you might be surprised to find that scholarship money is available.

One final important note about student-specific scholarships is that the more unique the prize, the less competition there probably is. Highly specific eligibility criteria typically tends to disqualify most students. Those who do meet eligibility requirements are far fewer, which increases your chance of winning that scholarship prize.

Scholarships By Major or Career-Specific Scholarships

These are scholarships awarded to students who plan to study in a particular field or enter a certain line of work. For this reason, sometimes these prizes are called career-specific scholarships.

When conducting searches for these prizes in scholarship databases or at your college or university, you may want to look for language related to your field of study. For example, you can do a search for scholarships for engineering students, STEM scholarships, scholarships for history, scholarships for graduate students, etc.

There are plenty of these types of scholarships out there from both private organizations and universities themselves, so cast a wide net in your research.

Institution-Specific Scholarships

These are scholarship prizes for students who attend a specific school. College-specific scholarships can often be found on a college institution’s financial resources page or under resources offered by a college registrar. If you can’t find these resources, ask! Not all institutions will have an easy-to-find list of featured scholarships.

The reasons underlying college-specific scholarships can be diverse and range from academic merit to needs-based. The great thing about these prizes is that they are not open to students outside of your college or university, which will diminish the amount of competition you face.

Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are given to college students who have exceptional athletic abilities. Collegiate sport is an intimate part of campus life for many universities, and sport scholarships exist to attract students to study, and perform, at particular schools.

While most students think that athletic scholarships are given out by specific colleges, there are also scholarship providers or athletic clubs that offer scholarship opportunities for top athletes who don’t have a full-ride scholarship. For example, there is scholarship money for curlers, martial artists, most major sports, and general athletic scholarships whose eligibility requirements are not specific to a particular sport. Ultimately, if you excel at any sport, a scholarship search for these types of prizes may help you find money to assist with tuition.  

Brand Scholarships

Brand scholarships are those that are offered by businesses or corporations. They are typically meant to bring positive exposure to the scholarship provider by showing support for students, a move that everyone can get behind.

Brand scholarships are typically promoted very widely because exposure for a particular brand is highly sought after. For this reason, you will find brand scholarships on many scholarship finders, scholarship databases, scholarship directories, and scholarship platforms. When researching scholarships, you may also find that many of these prizes are littered all over social media. Brand scholarships also tend to attract many applicants because of the high level of promotion behind them.

Creative Scholarships

These scholarships typically ask students to submit a creative piece of work in addition to, or in place of, a scholarship essay. Creative scholarships are designed to reward students who show promise or some kind of innovation in their creative endeavors, including art, photography, music, video editing, animation, and many other pursuits. So, if writing scholarship applications isn’t your thing, you may want to try this route in your scholarship search.

In short, there are countless scholarships available to students, so don’t be deterred!