How To Get Academic Scholarships: An Easy Guide



The high cost of education has been the #1 factor in decreasing college student enrollment in the United States. Paying out of pocket is never easy, especially for middle—to lower-class groups. Fortunately, there are scholarship programs for all types of students. Wondering how to get academic scholarships? Look no further.

It’s important to note that with only 1.7 million average yearly scholarships awarded and 18.58 million college students in the US, the competition is fierce. In this guide, we’ll explore how to get academic scholarships to increase your chances of being one of the lucky ones. 

Why Academic Scholarships Matter

A college degree can help you achieve personal and professional growth. It can lead to higher earning potential, workforce success, and improved financial stability. 

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However, with the rapid increase in college education costs, a degree can only be an investment if you don’t accumulate a mountain of loans. The higher your student loans are, the lower the return on investment. 

The rising student debts and loans are underscoring the importance of reevaluating the cost and value proposition of higher education. Many students find themselves saddled with significant debt burdens upon graduation. 

An academic scholarship is free money given to deserving students. Usually, schools, companies, or government groups give these scholarships to help students keep studying after high school or continue to grad school.

However, even for students with excellent academics, competing for a scholarship is hard. This is where knowing academic scholarship requirements becomes crucial. The more you know about academic scholarships, the higher your chances of obtaining one. 

Types of Academic Scholarships

Scholarships are not limited to students with top-notch GPAs or exceptional athletic abilities. They are, in fact, accessible to students from all backgrounds. The key is to understand the different types of scholarships available.

Let’s pause to discuss the various scholarship opportunities accessible to deserving college applicants.

Merit-Based Scholarships: Recognizing Academic Excellence

Merit-based scholarships recognize students for their exceptional achievements in their field. It aims to motivate others and create a competitive learning environment. They fall into four main categories:

  • Academic Excellence Scholarships. Awarded for outstanding academic performance.
  • Research Scholarships. Given to students with exceptional research abilities.
  • Artistic Achievement Scholarships. Reserved for students excelling in artistic disciplines.
  • Athletic Achievement Scholarships. Targeting students with exceptional sports abilities.

Need-Based Scholarships: Financial Assistance for Students

Need-based scholarships provide financial assistance to economically disadvantaged students. While demonstrating low income is essential, these scholarships may also consider merit-based criteria. They want to break the cycle of poverty and empower recipients to impact their communities positively. 

Common need-based scholarship requirements:

  • Demonstrate low income.
  • The second selection factor is often based on merit.

Specialized Scholarships: Pursuing Passion and Talent

This scholarship is often a combination of the two previously mentioned types. This scholarship can be categorized into three: 

  • Location-specific. This targets students from a particular geographical area. 
  • Subject-specific. This is given to students pursuing particular fields or subjects. It mainly aims to address shortages of skilled professionals in those domains.
  • Program-specific. These scholarships are linked to specific academic programs or courses. They aim to attract talented students to innovative or unique programs by offering financial support.

Getting Started: Preparing for Scholarship Success

The first advice we will give you on how to get an academic scholarship in full is to ensure that the opportunity aligns with your personal profile. 

Assess yourself. 

Do you have a certain set of talents? Are you great at sports? Is your GPA high? What’s your parents’ combined income? These questions will help you determine what type of scholarship you have the highest chance of obtaining. 

Once you’ve evaluated your strengths, weaknesses, and eligibility criteria, you can narrow your focus to scholarships matching your profile. You may also use online databases or search engines for open entry programs. 

Research scholarship opportunities.

When researching for scholarships, do not limit yourself. Many students tend to focus only on FAFSA and institutional scholarships. Do not make this mistake. 

Always look into community organizations, foundations, and corporations. Apply to everything that you qualify for. While a high GPA to get a scholarship is often the primary criterion, you’ll also find opportunities with no restrictions. For example, Unigo and ScholarshipOwl offer academic scholarships of up to $20,000 based on a random draw. 

Here are a few pieces of advice: 

  • Talk to local professionals to point you toward local scholarships.
  • Apply to the small scholarships, too. A 500 award can help you pay for a few credit hours. 
  • Look for scholarships based on qualities and experience.

Crafting a Winning Application

One of the most common questions asked during scholarship applications is, “What GPA do you need to get a full scholarship?” While the answer depends from program to program, the strongest GPA for a full academic scholarship is 3.75 on a 4.0 scale. There are, however, scholarships that accept 2.0 GPAs. 

GPAs are not the only requirement to secure scholarship opportunities. Essays, recommendation letters, and resumes play crucial roles, too. 

Tips for Writing Compelling Scholarship Essays

It’s important to tailor your essay according to the scholarship. Stay alert on specifications, including minimum length, word count, formatting, font size, and line spacing. This also includes submission deadlines and any other guidelines or instructions.

Here are some key tips for crafting a standout scholarship essay:

  • Start Strong. Begin with a captivating introduction that outlines your essay’s topic and ends with a clear thesis statement.
  • Show Your Creativity. Don’t shy away from being imaginative. Let your unique voice and personality shine through to make a memorable impression.
  • Stay Consistent. Maintain a consistent tone throughout the essay. Use relevant anecdotes and examples to support your points.
  • Align with Values. Demonstrate your alignment with the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
  • End with Impact. Conclude your essay by emphasizing how the scholarship would benefit you and expressing gratitude for the opportunity.
  • Focus on Quality. Ensure your essay is well-written, grammatically correct, and organized. Keep it focused and avoid unnecessary content.
  • Address the Prompt Thoroughly. Respond thoughtfully to all aspects of the prompt, providing examples illustrating your points and highlighting your alignment with the organization’s values.
  • Submit on Time. Be punctual with all required materials, as late submissions are typically not accepted.

Showcasing Your Achievements: Résumé and Letters of Recommendation

In addition to academic scholarship GPA requirements and essays, you should also work on your résumé and LORs. These papers will contribute insights into your character, academic abilities, and potential for success. Submit them only when they’re asked for. 

Here’s what to include:

  • Personal info: Name, location, contact details.
  • Education: Schools attended, GPA, class rank, test scores.
  • Extracurriculars: Organizations, dates, leadership roles, impact.
  • Outside activities: Work, volunteering, with details.
  • Honors: High school awards only.

Recommendation letters are used to help committees gain a deeper understanding of who you are as a person and a student. When selecting individuals to write your LORs, consider people who know you well and can speak to your strengths, character, and potential. This might include teachers, coaches, supervisors, or mentors.

Navigating the Scholarship Application Process

Beyond asking, “What do I need to get a scholarship?” It’s also wise to ask for advice on creating a scholarship application timeline. While most deadlines fall between September and May, opportunities exist throughout the year, even in summer. 

According to FAFSA, students should start applying for scholarships the summer before their senior year of high school. Starting early can improve your chances of securing funding and help you understand the process better.

Ask your counselor about school-related scholarships you might miss otherwise. They can provide information on deadlines, especially for local scholarships.

Once you start, keep applying for scholarships throughout high school, college, and even graduate school. Starting early is best, but continue applying throughout your academic journey.

Here’s a quick timeline that may work for you: 

  1. Research months, or even a year, before college AY. 
  2. Start to gather documents as soon as you read the scholarship requirements.
  3. Prepare essays, resumes, and LORs at least two months before the deadline.
  4. Submit a week before the deadline.
  5. Interview Preparation (if applicable). 

Maximizing Your Chances

When crafting your scholarship application, do not include outdated information like middle school experiences. Focus on recent achievements to show your potential impact as a college student and alum. Highlight leadership and community involvement.  

If you are unsure what to include, ask friends or family for advice.

There are also scholarships where interviews are necessary. Here are a few commonly included topics in scholarship interviews: 

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Share a challenge you’ve overcome, including strengths and weaknesses.
  • Why should you get this scholarship?
  • What is your proudest personal or professional achievement?
  • What is your desired career?
  • What is your vision for yourself in a decade?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What are your hobbies and fun activities?
  • The last book you enjoyed?

To show more interest, you should also prepare at least two tailored questions for the interviewer or scholarship panel. Even if they don’t prompt you for questions, having them ready showcases your professionalism and engagement.


The cost of higher education in the United States is high, which is why it’s important to be strategic when paying for school costs. Scholarships are the most suggested educational assistance. Unlike loans, these don’t require you to repay the money you receive. 

Instead of being overwhelmed by the cost, take charge of your college dreams. Enhance your leadership experiences, prepare for interviews, and actively hunt for scholarship opportunities. With a wide array of scholarship programs available, we’re confident you’ll discover one that suits you!