Merit-based aid financial aid (typically scholarships) is financial aid that colleges give to students based…
Once you’ve filed the FAFSA and are awaiting financial award letters from colleges, students should take some time to pursue what are commonly referred to as third-party scholarships, or money awarded from organizations other than the colleges themselves.
Third-party scholarships, also known as outside scholarships or private scholarships, can help fill unmet need that’s not covered by your financial aid package. However, it’s important to check colleges’ policies on outside scholarships because different schools treat them differently.
Here’s what you should know, as well as tips for finding outside and third-party scholarships.
Third-party scholarships: What to watch out for
In some cases, third-party scholarships may reduce the amount of other financial aid a student qualifies for. That’s because some colleges use outside scholarships to replace a portion of the institutional financial aid they would have otherwise awarded to the student—this is known as scholarship displacement. When this is the case, earning third-party scholarships is practically pointless.
However, some schools use outside scholarships to reduce student loans or unmet need. At schools where this is the case, third-party scholarships are absolutely worthwhile.
Unfortunately, outside scholarships will never reduce your expected family contribution, or EFC. As the name suggests, that number is what you’re expected to pay toward college out of pocket. However, it’s possible to reduce your EFC by employing certain strategies before you submit the FAFSA.
Where to find outside and third-party scholarships
While many outside scholarships offer relatively small monetary awards, they’re better than nothing and they can add up. Here’s how to find them.
1. Look locally
Don’t forget to pursue through your school all the local scholarships that you can. These are usually sponsored your local chapter of service groups like the American Legion, the Junior Women’s Club, Dollars for Scholars, etc. If you need help finding these, talk to your school counselor. Apply to all of the local scholarships that you qualify for, because your chances of winning these are far greater than the online scholarships.
2. Check out Scholarship America
Scholarship America is nonprofit organization that offers scholarships and has a scholarship search tool. It also partners with more than 270 college and university collegiate partners who have pledged to apply any Dollars for Scholars and Scholarship America scholarships toward reducing unmet need and student loans instead of using them to replace institutional financial aid.
Scholarships available through Scholarship America include:
- Equitable Excellence Scholarship: Awards $25,000, $10,000 and $2,500 scholarships to applicants who demonstrate achievement in school, community or work-related activities.
- GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program: Awards $10,000/year for four years, for a total of up to $40,000/recipient. After submitting the initial application, semifinalists will be selected to submit a letter of recommendation and then finalists will be interviewed via Skype.
3. Search for other third-party scholarships online
In addition to Scholarship America, there are many other online sources for scholarships—here are some that have good reputations among college admissions coaches:
Use these sources to search for scholarships that you may qualify for based on your demographics and interests. Then, read the requirements carefully (paying attention to deadlines) and prepare your application accordingly. Third-party scholarship applications frequently require a scholarship essay.