• Scholarship Smarts
  • Scholarship Essentials

Where the Bucks Are: Private Scholarships for College

money and a graduation cap

There are thousands of private scholarships for students — and endless ways to qualify.

Many individuals, organizations, and companies offer private scholarships that high school and colleges students can use to pay for college. So how do these awards work, and how do you know if applying for them is worth your time?

Why are Private Scholarships for College Offered?

Sponsors of private scholarships are motivated to offer awards for many reasons. Some have a desire to help needy students. Some want to promote their industry or company. Some want to honor their heritage or a loved one. Some want to support students who share their religion. Some want to attract students to their alma mater. The reasons are nearly endless.

How Do You Qualify for Private Scholarships?

At the very least, you'll probably need to do moderately well academically. Your family's financial need may also be a consideration. Otherwise, the eligibility requirements vary widely. For example, some scholarships may require that you come from a certain town or high school, be a great tennis player, or be a descendant of a Civil War soldier. You might be surprised at some of the unusual scholarships out there—and how many you might actually qualify for.

How Do You Apply for Private Scholarships?

Most private scholarships have their own applications, which can be as simple as a single page or as complex as a college application. You may need to provide materials that back up your application, such as a copy of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or your high school transcript. You may need to arrange for recommendation letters. Sponsors have their own deadlines, so don't assume they're the same as your college application deadlines.

Rules for Using Private Scholarship Money

Once you have received the scholarship, you will need to follow the sponsor's rules to keep it. Usually, this means maintaining a certain GPA and attending school at least part-time if not full-time.

But some private scholarships ask for more from students. For example, a scholarship may require commitments after you graduate, such as working in a certain geographical area, in a specific industry, or for a particular employer. Some require you to attend events or act as a spokesperson. Before you apply for a scholarship, read the rules and conditions carefully and decide if you can live with them.

Is Applying for a Private Scholarship Worth the Time?

Applying for private scholarships can be very worthwhile if you are picky about which ones you choose.

  • Check the maximum award—some can be as low as $500.
  • Find out if the scholarship is renewable, meaning you can apply to keep it from year to year.
  • Assess how well qualified you are. The more uniquely qualified, the better.
  • Avoid scholarships with vast application pools. Your odds are best for local or specialized awards for which you are an excellent fit.

There are thousands of private scholarships for college offered by a range of companies and organizations across multiple sectors and industries. Navigating the array of programs offered will require time, research, diligence and patience. Because these scholarships are gifts that don’t have to be repaid, this makes them highly competitive. Explore your potential early in the process!

What's Next?

Visit the Scholarship Finder to search an extensive database of private scholarships.

See Finding Scholarships You Qualify For to learn how to spot awards that fit you best.

Financial information contained on the CollegeData website is for general informational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any financial content contained on the CollegeData website without consulting with a financial or tax advisor, or your parents, high school counselors, admissions representatives or other college counseling professionals. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on the CollegeData website.