Winning a scholarship is a great feeling. It is, after all, literally free money. And every dollar you win in scholarships is a dollar you won’t have to take out in a student loan, so it really is a big deal.
While you’re waiting to find out if you’ve won a scholarship, it’s normal to wonder at that point what actually happens when you win one. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward. The exact process will depend, though, on which scholarships you’ve applied for.
The first thing that will happen is you’ll be notified that you’ve won, and given the exact amount of money you’ve been awarded. This notification should also include details about what happens next. Exactly how that money will be distributed depends largely on what kinds of scholarships you’ve applied for, and when you’ve applied for them.
Scholarships you applied for through the school.
Most colleges will have scholarships that you can apply for once you’ve been accepted. The money for these usually comes from alumni who’ve donated money specifically for a scholarship, and they typically set the standards for who that money can be awarded to. Often these will be directly related to your choice of major, or to your ethnic or religious background.
For instance, many colleges will have scholarships that are only available to people of color, or to students who are the first in their family to go to a college. Other scholarships might only be available to business majors.
Many schools also offer purely academic scholarships that are available to any students who qualify. Most full-ride scholarships fall into this category.
You can only apply for these scholarships through the school in question, and if you win the scholarship, then the money is typically given straight to the school in your name. If there’s any left over after paying your tuition and fees, that money might be given to you in a check or a direct deposit, or deposited in an account set up in your name at the school bookstore or dining hall.
Scholarships from third-party organizations.
There are plenty of organizations out there offering scholarships to college students. Local chapters of the VA, the Freemasons, churches, and all kinds of charitable organizations offer scholarships to local high school students. There are entire charities devoted to providing college scholarships.
If you apply for a scholarship through one of these organizations, you often do so before you even know which school you’ll be attending.
If you’re awarded the scholarship, the way they distribute the money will vary. Sometimes they’ll simply give you a check for the full amount. Other groups might wait until you pick a school and then send the money directly to the school. Still others might give you the check, but only after you sign an agreement requiring you to use that money for tuition.
As you can see, what actually happens when you’re awarded a scholarship will depend in large part on the organization that’s giving you the money. In all cases, they should be very clear with you when they notify you that you’ve won exactly how that money will be distributed. Sometimes they’ll give you the money, other times they’ll send it directly to the school. Either way, you should celebrate!