What Types of Scholarships Are There?

By Jennifer Calonia · March 07, 2024 · 7 minute read

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What Types of Scholarships Are There?

There are many types of scholarships, from academic to athletic and need-based to identity-specific scholarship programs. Recipients typically don’t need to repay the funds they receive in the form of scholarships, which makes this type of funding particularly appealing.

In a 2023 Sallie Mae survey, How America Pays for College, it found that 61% of U.S. families used scholarship funds to partly pay for college. The average scholarship award amount across school, state, and company or nonprofit sources was $8,005.

Despite this available aid, 29% of students who didn’t use scholarship funding said they didn’t apply because winning didn’t seem plausible. However, with so many different types of scholarships available, you might find one that can help you pay for school.

1. Academic Scholarships

Academic scholarships, also referred to as merit scholarships, are awarded to students who’ve demonstrated academic excellence or exceptional skill in an area. For example, a merit-based scholarship might be based on an applicant’s cumulative GPA.

This kind of scholarship is provided by numerous sources, including:


Some high schools provide academic scholarships to their top graduating seniors. Additionally, the college you’re attending might have scholarships available.


Nationally recognized organizations offer federal academic scholarships based on different criteria and specifications.


Students might also find scholarships sponsored by their state, county, city, or local associations.

💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

2. Athletic Scholarships

Athletic scholarships are offered to student-athletes by their college. These full- and partial-scholarship programs are offered to a select few students who have shown exceptional skill in their sport.

Typically, when participating in an athletic scholarship you’re expected to maintain satisfactory academic performance to continue receiving funding. Note that fewer than 2% of high school athletes are awarded athletics scholarships to compete in college.

Recommended: Balancing Being a Student Athlete & Academics in College

3. Scholarships for Extracurriculars

Students who participate in extracurricular activities might be able to find scholarship opportunities for their unique interests. For example, scholarships for students who dance, act, draw, or participate in Boy Scouts, Key Club, and more exist.

4. Student Specific Scholarships

There are many types of scholarships that are based on the student’s personal situation or affiliation. Some of these kinds of scholarships include:

Religious Scholarships

For example, your specific religious denomination. These scholarships are generally available to students who are actively involved in a faith-based community, or who are pursuing religion-based college courses.

First-Generation Scholarships

Students who are the first in their family to attend college may qualify for specific scholarships.

Legacy Scholarships

These scholarships are exclusively for students whose parents or close family members are alumni of the same institution.

Identity-Based Scholarships

In addition to the student-specific scholarships discussed above, scholarship programs are also available based on a student’s personal identity. Some identity-based categories include BIPOC, Women, and LGBTQIA+.

Hispanic Heritage

Scholarships are available based on heritage. Students of Hispanic or Latinx heritage may be able to qualify for specific heritage-based scholarships like those offered by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

African American

Specific scholarships are available for African American students as well.


Scholarships for women are another subset of options.


LGBTQIA+ identifying students may be eligible for scholarships as well.

Learning Disabilities

These scholarships are available to select students who have diagnosed learning and attention issues. For example, the National Center for Learning Disabilities offers scholarships.

5. Need-Based Scholarships

One of the most popular types of scholarships for college are need-based. These scholarships are accessible to applicants who have a demonstrated financial need, and a program might ask for proof, such as income documentation or FAFSA® information.

You can find need-based scholarships from national organizations, as well as within your state, local community, and even through your own school.

Recommended: What is Need-Based Financial Aid?

6. Employer Scholarships

Employer scholarships are offered to employees of a company or an employee’s college bound student. Aside from having an affiliation with the employer, students might need to meet other eligibility criteria to be selected for an award.

7. Military Scholarships

Private and public entities sponsor military scholarships for students who currently serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces. If you’re a first-time freshman and participated in Reserve Officer Training Corps, consider reaching out to your school’s ROTC officer to learn about your options.

8. STEM Scholarships

STEM scholarships are accessible to students who are pursuing a college education in a science, technology, engineering, or math discipline. Some scholarships programs are offered specifically to students who identify with a particular group; for example, STEM scholarships for minority students.

9. Scholarships Based on Major

Regardless of what you’ve chosen as your college major, there’s likely a scholarship suited for you. These scholarships are provided by some college departments, the school itself, or private organizations who want to encourage students to pursue a particular area of study.

10. No Essay Scholarships

This kind of scholarship explicitly doesn’t include a written essay or personal statement component. You might prefer this type of scholarship if writing isn’t your forte, but there might be another required component in its place, such as a video or other creative submission.

Applying for Scholarships

There are various types of scholarships for college, which means there are just as many different requirements and deadlines to stay on top of. When applying to a scholarship, double check that you meet the basic eligibility criteria as a student.

Depending on the type of scholarship, it might require a minimum GPA, or it might ask for proof that you have financial needs, for example. After confirming that you meet the applicant requirements, review the steps needed to apply.

Some scholarship programs might ask for a personal statement or other academic or creative submissions. Similarly, some might request additional paperwork as part of your application, like a copy of your school transcripts.

Finally, make sure you note each scholarship’s deadline and submit your application on time. The last thing you want is to have done all of the work only to be denied because of a missed deadline.

Alternatives to Scholarships

If you’d like to diversify your financial aid sources, there are alternative aid options, like loans for undergraduates and graduate students, as well as grants. To apply for federal financial aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. Schools may also use the information provided on the FAFSA to award school-specific scholarships. Here are a few other options for paying for college.


Grants are provided by federal, state, school, and private sources. Like scholarships, they typically don’t need to be repaid.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents of dependent undergrads. They’re funded by the U.S. government, and most federal loans don’t require a credit check. In addition to offering fixed rates, they provide access to income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs.

Private Student Loans

When scholarships, grants, and federal student loans aren’t enough to cover the total cost of college, a private student loan could help. These loans are funded by private lenders, and offer fixed- or variable-rate loans at different terms. These loans typically require a credit check or the addition of a creditworthy cosigner. Keep in mind that private student loans aren’t required to offer the same benefits, like income-driven repayment plans, as federal student loans.

The Takeaway

If you’re short on aid for your upcoming academic year, consider searching for unclaimed scholarships. There are a variety of scholarship types to consider, so you’ll likely come across at least a handful that you’re eligible for.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no fees.


What are the three most common types of scholarships?

Common types of scholarships for college are merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships, and athletic scholarships. However, within these categories are sub-categories of scholarships based on specific eligibility factors.

How many different scholarships are there?

There are millions of scholarships being offered each year. According to Educationdata.org, more than 1.7 million scholarships are awarded annually.

What are competitive scholarships?

Competitive scholarships are prestigious national scholarship programs. They are often merit-based and are awarded to exceptional students who’ve demonstrated academic excellence, leadership, and who are considered the nation’s top students.

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Photo credit: iStock/Edwin Tan

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