It’s a fact. There are tens of thousands of college scholarships available for students to win every year. It’s also true that each prize has its own eligibility requirements. This means you may be a fitting candidate for one scholarship opportunity, but disqualified from another.

So, what makes you eligible for a scholarship? The answer is: many things.

Eligibility for scholarships can be based on your grades, extracurriculars, hobbies, family income, and personal qualities like race, gender, and ethnicity. For one scholarship prize, you may need to demonstrate academic excellence, but for another scholarship opportunity, you may be eligible because your family ancestry hails from a certain part of the world.

The kinds of scholarships you’re researching ultimately determines what makes you eligible. However, no matter the prize, you’ll still have to hand in a scholarship application. This can take on many forms including the classic scholarship essay, a creative submission, or a no essay scholarship where students are asked to apply in some unique way (perhaps by tweeting, commenting, or registering for something).

Applying for scholarships can help you pay for college, but the process can also take a lot of time without great results. Let’s avoid timewasting and position you for success. Here’s what you need to know regarding eligibility requirements.

Common Eligibility Criteria

A scholarship provider can create any eligibility criteria it wants. However, some of the most common requirements include:

  • Scholarships by major: students must be studying a particular field
  • Fulltime student: students must be registered in fulltime enrollment
  • Grade level: scholarships are awarded to either high school seniors, incoming freshmen, undergraduates, or graduate students
  • Students attending a particular college or university: students must be enrolled at a particular school to qualify
  • Family income: students must qualify for financial aid and have a family income under a stated level

Each of these criteria may come up in a scholarship search, but always check the fine print to ensure that you meet all the necessary components of the scholarships and grants to which you apply. Different types of scholarships will ask for various things. Let’s cover some of these items in more detail.

GPA and Extracurriculars

Eligibility criteria focused on exceptional grades, test scores, or extracurricular involvement are typically attached to merit-based scholarships.

For these scholarship opportunities, you’ll likely have to write a scholarship essay, but these prizes may also include more specific criteria  like: “applicants should have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.5,” or “applicants must have an outstanding record of leadership and community service”. This information is important. Before you invest time into a scholarship application, ensure that you meet the stated eligibility criteria. Also note that national merit or merit scholarships tend to be very competitive and attract highly distinguished students.

But, before we move on, let’s consider the statement from above noting, “applicants must have an outstanding record of leadership and community service”. As you can see, it’s vague. In this case, your written essay will be crucial as a complement to your scholarship resume. In short, you’ll have to use your communication skills to show the selection committee why you deserve this this scholarship over other students.

Characteristics Unique to You – Hobbies, Race, Gender, and Much More

There are many scholarship opportunities that reward students for highly specific personal characteristics. These are typically known as student-specific scholarships.

There are endless reasons why a scholarship may exist. For example, some scholarships are for students who are tall, entrepreneurs, leaders, etc. Other scholarships are awarded to students who identify with a specific race, gender, or ethnicity. These college scholarships are usually given away for advocacy purposes or community building. Therefore, if you’re connected to any kind of community, do a search for scholarships to see if that community invests in students.

It’s important to note that highly specific scholarship awards may be less competitive in certain instances because the eligibility criteria disqualify a lot of students. Also, these scholarship programs tend to be awarded by smaller or lesser-known organizations so they may not appear on scholarship databases where major prizes are advertised.

Where You Go To School

Your school likely has many scholarship funds, endowed scholarships, merit scholarships, and other types of prizes. However, for institution-specific scholarships, an applicant is required to attend a specific college (for this reason, if you’re a high school senior doing a college search, you may want to check out how many scholarships you qualify for at that school).

A great place to find these prizes is your college registrar or student financial aid office. This is where a counsellor can connect you with college scholarships whose eligibility criteria state that a recipient must attend your school.

Family Income

One major eligibility criteria for many college scholarships is financial need. This usually requires students to apply for federal students aid by filling out the FAFSA. Otherwise known as needs-based scholarships, these prizes are awarded to students whose family income falls under a certain threshold.

While winning these scholarships is great, you should always be aware of any potential implications to your financial aid packages. Sometimes, winning a scholarship changes your income and can influence your standing for financial assistance.

Just Because You’re a Student: Scholarships With Few Conditions

There are also many scholarships out there that have few eligibility restrictions. For example, some prizes may state that they are open to all undergraduate students attending any school and program in America. This means that nearly every student in the country would qualify. Given this circumstance, you can be sure that these types of scholarships get a lot of applicants.

Let’s Summarize

  • Eligibility criteria are attached to every college scholarship.
  • Most eligibility requirements are centered on one of the following: your grades, extracurriculars, major, level of study, fulltime status, college of enrollment, personal characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, hobbies, and financial aid.
  • Not all prizes have restrictive eligibility criteria.
  • Generally, eligibility requirements will influence the competitiveness of a scholarship opportunity. Prizes with few restrictions or related to academic excellence typically receive many applicants. Highly specific eligibility requirements disqualify many students and receive fewer applicants, but these prizes are often less advertised and can be harder to find.