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A Guide to Unclaimed Scholarship Money

June 06, 2019 · 5 minute read

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A Guide to Unclaimed Scholarship Money

Maybe you’ve heard how there are literally billions of dollars in unclaimed scholarships each year, just waiting for savvy students like you to snap them up. But, is it really true? Are there really mounds of unclaimed dollars each year, or is this just folklore?

As you’re creating a plan to finance your college education, you might be looking for scholarship or grant money, because you don’t need to pay it back. In this post, we’ll explore the reality of unclaimed scholarship funds that could be used to help pay for your college education.

We’ll provide tips to help you find more obscure scholarship opportunities you may not have heard of. We’ll also provide information about the scholarship search.

A key takeaway here is that though inflated claims found online might be myths, that doesn’t mean there aren’t scholarships that are just right for you still available.

“Billions” in Unclaimed Scholarships: Truth or Myth?

As a general rule, if something sounds too good to be true, it often is. And the idea of “billions in unclaimed scholarships” is, unfortunately, a myth. Edvisors.com traces this myth back to pre-internet times, to the 1976 to1977 academic year.

That’s when the National Institute of Work and Learning reported that as much as $7 billion was available each year in employer-provided education assistance, adding that employees only used about $300 to $400 million annually. This left $6.6 billion on the table. And, this began to be misreported as scholarships that go unclaimed.

As far as federal funds go, however, there is Pell Grant funding unclaimed by students who might qualify if they simply filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). In fact, there could be as much as $2.6 billion in 2018 Pell Grants left on the table, according to a recent study .

Pell Grants are typically awarded to students who “display exceptional financial need” and have not yet earned one of these degrees: bachelor’s, graduate, or professional. An exception may be made if the student is in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program.

Pell Grants typically don’t need to be repaid, so if you think you’d qualify for this funding, it might be worth pursuing. And you can start by simply filling out the FAFSA.

Finding Scholarships

As you continue your scholarship search, understanding the types of scholarships you might qualify for could be helpful. Federal Student Aid , an office of the U.S. Department of Education, breaks down the broad scholarship categories as such:

•  Merit-based scholarships: These have certain standards, perhaps academics or a special talent, you must meet to qualify.

•  Financial-need scholarships: These may come with both academic requirements and financial ones.

•  Category-based scholarships: Some are for women, for example, or for people from military families. (This is the category where you can find some of the more obscure opportunities; if, for example, you’re left handed and you attend Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, there’s the Frederick and Mary T. Beckley Scholarship for Left Handed Students .)

Amounts of scholarships vary from a few hundred dollars to something more financially significant. To find opportunities, the U.S. Department of Education recommends the following tactics:

•  Talking to your high school counselor.

•  Meeting with the financial aid office at your college of choice.

•  Seeing if your employer or your parents’ employers offer assistance.

•  Heading to your local library. They’ll likely have resources in their reference section and may have connections to local organizations offering scholarships; these organizations can include:

◦  foundations

◦  religious organizations

◦  community organizations

◦  local businesses, perhaps those associated with your career interests

◦  professional associations and other civic groups

The U. S. Department of Labor offers a free scholarship search tool with more than 7,500 opportunities for student aid. You can review the listings in their current order, which lists ones with nearest deadlines first. Or you can search by keywords to find specific types of awards. You can also use filters to look for opportunities by level of study, location, and more.

Here’s information about federal opportunities , and you can also find information about grant agencies by state .

More About Unclaimed Scholarships

So, is it true there are obscure scholarships often left unclaimed? There is no database that can give us precise answers, but it makes sense that when more specific parameters exist around a particular scholarship, fewer students will qualify.

Using the scholarships for lefties described above as an example, a qualifying student would need to:

•  be left handed

•  have financial need

•  do well academically

•  be a sophomore, junior, or senior at this small liberal-arts college

Only about 10% of people are lefties and fewer than 1,500 people were enrolled at this college in fall 2017 (are potentially a fourth of the student body are freshmen, and therefore, not eligible yet). You can quickly do the math to see how few students would qualify for this particular scholarship, so if you happened to qualify, your chances of obtaining that unclaimed scholarship would mathematically be higher than those with broader requirements.
Let’s say you don’t fit those parameters or want to go to that specific school. Other quirky opportunities include the following:

•  If you dazzle your friends with your ability to make prom outfits using only duct tape, then you could win a $10,000 Stuck At Prom scholarship . Seriously.

•  Or maybe you have the best plan ever to survive the zombie apocalypse. If so, you could apply for the Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship ($2,000) where you can show off your survival and planning skills.

•  Or perhaps you live in the Phoenix metropolitan area and you’re tall (5’10” for females or 6’2” for males). If so, you might want to apply for the C.A.T.S. Tall Club Scholarship Program .

Scholarship Scams

Yes, there are plenty of quirky scholarships out there that are quite real. Unfortunately, though, there are also financial aid scams , including scholarships that aren’t legitimate. The U.S. Department of Education offers tips to protect yourself, including:

•  Knowing that you don’t need to pay to find scholarships or any other form of financial aid.

•  Checking information about scholarship offers at a public library and/or online.

•  Talking to the financial aid department at your college of choice to verify legitimacy.

When You Need Student Loans

In a perfect world, you’d get a full ride to college through scholarships and grants that don’t need to be paid back. But often even with scholarships and grants, students may need to take out student loans.

Types of student loan choices fall into two broad categories: federal and private. Federal ones are funded by the government and come with fixed rates. Repayment options currently available with most federal loans include income-driven repayment plans, forgiveness programs under certain circumstances, deferment, forbearance, and so forth.

Federal student loan options include:

•  Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans: the former is available to undergraduates with financial need and the latter is available to undergraduate and graduate students regardless of financial need

•  Direct PLUS Loans: available to the parents of undergraduate students, as well as graduate or professional students

To qualify for any federal aid, you must submit your FAFSA each year—which you may fill out with your parents as a dependent.

Private student loans are also available through some banks, online lenders like SoFi, and credit unions. Their varying interest rates could be fixed, which means they stay the same throughout the duration of the loan, or variable, which means the rates can change in accordance with market fluctuations. They may offer different interest rates depending upon the credit history of the borrower, among other factors.

As long as you’re attending college, at least part-time, you don’t need to start paying back your federal loans (PLUS loans are an exception) until after you graduate , and you typically get a six-month grace period before repayment begins. Private lenders may have different repayment schedules, so it’s important to be clear about what they are. They may or may not offer grace periods and generally don’t offer the kind of repayment programs federal loans have.

Student Loans From SoFi

We believe it’s important to look for ways to fund college that don’t set you back. Scholarships are one option, as are grants and loans. We also believe it’s important to exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before turning to private loans. However, if you do decide.a private student loan is the right fit for your education, we’re happy to help! SoFi’s private student loan process is easy, fast, and all online. We offer flexible payment options and terms—and don’t worry, there are absolutely no hidden fees.

Learn more about partially funding your education with SoFi private student loans.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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