What makes one college scholarship differ from another? The prize amount? The due date?

Yes, these are some of the correct answers. However, one of the most important distinguishers is eligibility requirements. These are the rules that determine who can win a prize and what they must do to be the successful applicant.

You simply can’t win a college scholarship whose eligibility criteria you don’t meet. This is why we’re going to cover the most important things you need to know about this part of college scholarship applications. The insights below apply to scholarships just about everywhere – those found on scholarship directories, scholarship portals, financial aid offices, etc.

Every Scholarship Has Eligibility Requirements

No matter what the scholarship is, there is always eligibility criteria attached to the prize. As you’ll see in the examples below, some scholarship providers require students to meet very few requirements, while others ask for more in order to be eligible to apply.

When you first get started on winning college scholarships, you should be aware about how eligibility criteria can translate into competition. Scholarship opportunities with few conditions will typically get more applicants. However, prizes with strict or unique criteria may disqualify many students and therefore get fewer applicants.

Eligibility Requirements Are Different for Every Scholarship

While some scholarships may have similar eligibility criteria, it’s wise to triple check these important details. Every scholarship committee or provider can create their own set of eligibility criteria based on pretty much anything they want.

There’s only one universal rule for scholarship eligibility requirements, and that’s that you have to be a student to win the money. Outside of this one common trait, eligibility requirements across scholarships can be very similar or wildly different. Again, always triple check these details to ensure you qualify.

Types of Eligibility Requirements for Scholarships

It’s impossible to name all kinds of eligibility requirements here. We could probably fill an entire book with the amount of potential criteria that exists in the scholarship world. With that said, here are some, but certainly not all, types of eligibility criteria for scholarship applications:

  • GPA – students may need to meet an academic requirement or achieve a certain test score to qualify. For example, there are many national scholarships based on merit, which can be quite lucrative.
  • Extracurriculars – students may need to have volunteered in a specific type of community service or activity.
  • Hobbies – anything can fit into this wide ranging category, even bird watching.
  • Student-specific characteristics like gender, race, ethnicity. For example, scholarships for Hispanic students, scholarships for women, and scholarships for veterans.
  • Subject or major – students must study or plan to enter a specific field or career for a scholarship by major. For example, there are many STEM scholarships for college students.
  • Where you go to school – students may have to attend a certain high school, college or university.
  • Grade / level of study – students may have to be high school seniors, undergraduate, or graduate students. For example, there are also high school scholarships, scholarships for students who just graduated from high school, college freshman and graduate scholarships.
  • Creative component – students have to submit a creative application like a video, short story, or painting.
  • Essay component/essay scholarships – students must answer an essay question of relevance to the scholarship’s mission.
  • Family income – students may have to complete the FAFSA and fall within a certain level of family income to qualify. Students who have exceptional financial need may also receive a Pell Grant to help pay for college.
  • Student of any kind – some scholarships will merely ask that students attend any college in the U.S.A. to qualify.

Eligibility Requirements Are Black and White

It’s important to know that eligibility requirements are black and white. In other words, scholarship applicants must meet the stated criteria or they’re disqualified. You should take note of this, especially if you’re going to spend a lot of time constructing an application. It would be a waste of time to apply for a scholarship, only to have your work tossed away without consideration.

Example Eligibility Requirements

One of the most well-known scholarships for college students is the Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship. Let’s examine what this scholarship requires so that you have some real experience for when you conduct your scholarship search. For this particular scholarship fund, students must meet the following criteria:

For the Coca-Cola Scholars Program Scholarship, applicants must be:

  • Current high school (or home-schooled) student attending a school in the U.S. (or select DoD schools) who will graduate during the 2021-2022 academic school year
  • U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Permanent Residents, Refugees, Asylees, Cuban-Haitian Entrants, or Humanitarian Parolees – based on the guidelines utilized by U.S. Department of Education for Federal Financial Aid eligibility
  • Expecting to receive high school diploma during current academic year
  • Planning to pursue a degree at an accredited U.S. post-secondary institution
  • Able to verify a minimum overall B/3.0 GPA in high school coursework

Applicants may not be:

  • Children or grandchildren of current employees, officers, or owners of Coca-Cola bottling companies, The Coca-Cola Company, Company divisions, or subsidiaries.
  • Children or grandchildren of former employees who are currently receiving retirement benefits based on their previous employment with Coca-Cola bottling companies, The Coca-Cola Company, Company divisions, or subsidiaries.
  • International students (with the exception of students at DoD schools)
  • High school graduates
  • Temporary residents

This scholarship is one of the biggest and well-known in the world.

Now, let’s examine another scholarship that isn’t as popular. There are tens of thousands of these kinds of prizes, but for the sake of having an example, let’s just focus in on a $1K prize offered by InvestmentZen. Here is the stated eligibility rules for that prize: “All applicants must be actively enrolled full-time in an accredited college/university in any country.” That’s it. That’s who’s eligible. Big difference, right?

It’s quite clear in in these examples what may qualify or disqualify you from these competitions. However, in some cases, eligibility requirements may be vague or unclear. If this is the case, just ask! Most scholarship programs will have an email for inquiries so don’t be shy about using it.

Now that you’re equipped with this information about college scholarship eligibility criteria, there’s only one thing left to do. Find scholarships to apply for and get started!