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Key Differences Between Internal vs. External Scholarships

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Leyla Barkhordar and Alexander Oddo in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered:


In this article, we will share advice from Alexander Oddo and Leyla Barkhordar about the process of applying to internal and external scholarships.


What Are Internal vs. External Scholarships?


You may have heard about internal and external scholarships, but the difference is not always clear. Internal scholarships are scholarships that are administered by colleges or universities directly while external scholarships are granted by organizations outside a specific college or university. 


Many institutions will have scholarship centers where students can go to ask advisers about the different scholarships offered by a school. For example, when Barkhordar went to San Monica College, she asked her honors counselor what scholarships were available that she was qualified for, she was then given a list by her counselor and applied to all of the scholarships from the list. When she transferred to UCLA, she was able to do the same thing, and she applied to internal scholarships at UCLA based on her GPA and profile. 


Scholarships can often be hard to find by searching online, so it is a great idea to talk to people in your network and ask about scholarship opportunities. Scholarships can be about who you know, just like finding an internship or a job, so networking and asking folks about scholarships is an important step to consider whether you are looking for internal or external scholarships.


How To Apply for Internal Scholarships


Many colleges, including private schools, use Common Application essays as internal merit scholarship essays. This can be helpful because it reduces the number of extra essays needed to apply for scholarships. However, it can also be limiting because you can’t tailor your college application for specific internal scholarships. 


Additionally, many schools do not publish the metrics that they use to evaluate students for different merit scholarships. This is possibly because students might tailor their college applications to certain scholarships if a list of merit scholarships and their eligibility requirements were public. This is counterintuitive to what colleges are looking for in applicants―they are seeking students who are genuinely interested in the activities that they pursue, not students who are just participating in things to maximize their chances of earning a scholarship.


How To Apply to External Scholarships


There are many external scholarships available and, depending on the type of scholarship, they can require a varying amount of effort to apply to. Typically, scholarships with less competition, such as local scholarships, require less work than larger regional or national scholarships.


When planning to apply to external scholarships, make sure to budget for several months to work on the applications. This means you should use the entire summer to focus on this process before you start applying to schools. This is important because while some scholarship applications require little work, others require many documents, including essays, resumes, references, resumes, and cover letters. 


For example, when Barkhordar applied to both Santa Monica College and UCLA, she spent her summer applying to external scholarships. For Barkhordar, many of the scholarships had deadlines in August or September, and she chose to apply during the summer rather than doing so during the school year when her schedule was busier.


Who Can Apply to Scholarships?


Many students think that you can only apply to scholarships during 12th grade but there are scholarships available from ninth grade through college graduation and even into graduate school. When considering your calendar and timeline for applying to scholarships, it is important to keep in mind this large window so that you maximize the scholarships that you earn. 


If you are interested in applying for scholarships, you can begin thinking about applying as soon as you start ninth grade, especially because some scholarship opportunities are only available to students in specific grades. To not miss out on these opportunities, you should create a list or spreadsheet of scholarships that you intend to apply to throughout high school and college. By doing this early, you can hold yourself accountable, organize your search, and keep track of scholarship deadlines and requirements.