When Should High Schoolers Apply for College Scholarships?

What’s Covered?

 

When you’re applying to college, the cost can be alarming. Getting in is one thing, but how do you pay for it once you do?

 

The good news is that the advertised sticker price of most colleges and universities is rarely the one the majority of students end up paying. Scholarships play a huge role in funding your education.

 

But it’s often confusing to decipher among the various types of scholarships and understand when you’re supposed to apply for each one. To that end, we’ve broken down the scholarships you can apply for and how to do it.

 

The Different Types of Scholarships

 

Private scholarships

 

Private scholarships are granted by private organizations, companies, and institutions. These awards are usually designated for students who meet certain criteria, such as specific demographics, and can be competitive. Award sizes range dramatically depending on the scholarship program.

 

One well-known example is the Gates Scholarship. The program was established in 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and continues to offer 300 minority high school seniors with exemplary academic records, leadership qualities, and demonstrated financial need substantial monetary awards to help offset the cost of their college attendance each year. 

 

Institutional scholarships

 

Institutional scholarships are awarded by colleges and universities and depend on the student attending the granting institution. They can be both merit- and need-based. Some institutions, such as all the members of the Ivy League don’t offer merit-based scholarships, but many others do.

 

In fact, some top-tier universities, such as Vanderbilt University, Duke University, and the University of Chicago, offer full-ride scholarships.

 

Federal and State Aid

 

Government aid is one of the most common forms of scholarships. The majority of students who apply qualify for federal and state aid. Based on the information you provide in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), federal and state governments, along with institutions, will assess whether you qualify for different forms of aid. Often, your financial aid package will include scholarships, which you don’t have to pay back, unlike loans.

 

When to Apply for Federal and State Aid

 

The FAFSA opens on October 1 every year. For students applying to begin college in the 2022–2023 academic year, the deadline for submission is June 30, 2023. However, many colleges and universities will ask you to submit your FAFSA by the college application deadline, and some states have earlier deadlines as well. That’s why you should aim to complete and submit your FAFSA as soon as possible.

 

When to Apply for Institutional Grants & Scholarships

 

While deadlines vary from institution to institution, you’ll usually apply for institutional grants and scholarships in the fall of your senior year. Many ask you to submit your FAFSA and CSS at the same time as your application (see above). In some cases, you may need to submit your college application earlier than the stated deadlines in order to qualify for merit scholarships.

 

When to Apply for Private Scholarships

 

When should you apply for private scholarships? Anytime!

 

Institutions have different deadlines, and they can occur at various times during your high school career. Start your search early so you can maximize your chances of winning money toward your education. It’s a good idea to keep track of deadlines in a calendar or spreadsheet to stay organized.

 

Check out scholarships for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

 

Don’t forget about CollegeVine scholarships! We do weekly drawings, and all you need to do to enter is create a free account to enter. You can gain more entries — thus increasing your odds of winning — by completing various actions, such as using our financial aid calculator or creating a college list.

 

Which Type of Scholarship Should You Prioritize?

 

Your chances of securing need-based government and institutional aid are the highest. Beyond completing the FAFSA and CSS (in some cases), you won’t need to take any other steps. This should be your priority.

 

Next, if you have academic qualifications well above the average of admitted students at the schools in question, you have a good chance of winning merit scholarships. Sometimes, schools automatically offer these awards to anyone above a certain threshold for GPA and/or standardized test scores.

 

Private scholarships can be a good option after government and institutional aid. Bear in mind, however, that winning these awards may affect your overall financial aid package, so apply strategically. While most schools decrease your work-study contribution or loans first, additional aid may not help you all that much. 

 

Learn more about how scholarships affect financial aid.


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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