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While it’s easy and even sometimes fun to go after the no hassle, easy scholarships, if there is something you excel at, you should make sure to put your name in the hat for competitive scholarships as well.

Academic Scholarships

This is a broad category. Academic scholarships are generally awarded to students with high achievement in academic subjects. Some rely solely on grade point average (GPA), test scores and field of study. Others are awarded to students who demonstrate leadership, artistic creativity, or other accomplishments in addition to academic talent.

At some colleges and universities, academic scholarships are offered by different academic departments. So if you are an excellent student, go ahead and reach out to the school you’ve always dreamed of attending. Department contacts can typically be found on the school’s website, and when in doubt, the financial aid office is always there to help.

Scholarship Essay Contests

 These contests require applicants to write an essay about a specific topic. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute sponsors essay contests answering questions about Rand’s books. The JFK Profiles in Courage Essay contest requires applicants to write an essay of less than 1,000 words about an elected public official who acted courageously to address a political issue at a local, state, national or international level. Scholarship essay contests are more competitive and typically have fewer applicants than sweepstakes promotions. If you consider yourself a good writer, or you are passionate about a specific subject, look into essay contests on websites like StudentScholarshipSearch.com.

essay based scholarship

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Scholarships

These competitions are a rigorous path to scholarship money for students with real talent in these fields. STEM scholarship awards are sometimes won through research and other science or technology projects, and sometimes in direct competition solving difficult problems. Examples include competitions run by corporations like Oracle.

Related: 2018 College Scholarships for STEM You Need to Know About 

Scholarships for Volunteering and Community Service

Community service scholarships reward individuals who help others through service. For example, the Heart of America Christopher Reeve Award is awarded annually to one extraordinary student “who has demonstrated tremendous courage and compassion in serving his or her community.”

Fellowships, Research Grants, and Assistantships

These funding opportunities are usually awarded to graduate students, often in return for help in research or teaching work (which, in turn, helps fulfill the educational or research mission of the college, teaches graduate students how to teach and do research). They might include tuition breaks and even living stipends. Fellowships may bridge the gap between college-based and private scholarship money. For example, the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management is an umbrella organization that, with money from corporate sponsors, awards scholarships at well-known graduate business schools to further its mission of bringing underrepresented and diverse populations into the world of MBAs. Fellowships are usually funded through grants either from the government or other foundations (or even the college itself) to help support a particular aspect of the educational process or a specific category of student, such as graduate nursing students or underrepresented students.


Pageants are among the largest scholarship competitions primarily reserved for women (there are a few niche pageants out there for men). The best known pageants are the Miss America and Distinguished Young Women competitions. Participants can win scholarships and prizes at local, state, and national levels and these multiple levels mean there are several opportunities to be a scholarship winner many times over.

Unique Opportunities

There are numerous scholarships based on specific life circumstances or experiences, such as religious affiliations, disability, illness (such as cancer), under-represented status, interest in a particular major or career, or hard-to-measure qualities like leadership and dedication to a cultural or political set of values. These diverse scholarships are offered by institutions and organizations based on their specific mission.

Scholarship Sweepstakes

These funding opportunities typically do not require your academic achievements, standardized test scores or financial need. However, you are sometimes less likely to win because of the random selection process. Your chances of winning a scholarship sweepstakes vary based on the number of applicants who enter each drawing. Requirements may be as simple as sending off an email or completing an online form or survey.

Random drawings are becoming more prevalent for applicants who meet the promotions eligibility qualifications and enter these competitions. For example, at ScholarshipPoints.com, you can win scholarships by simply completing activities to earn points, then spending those points to enter on-going scholarship drawings. It’s free to join and you can enter as many scholarship drawings as you’d like.


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