Scholarships can dramatically ease the financial burden of paying for your post-secondary education. They can help you avoid taking on extra student loan debt and are considered free money that you don't need to repay. However, there may be certain strings attached that you don't want to overlook.
It is important to look at all your options. Have you been offered a scholarship that has conditions attached? Keep reading the following factors to see if accepting this offer is in your best interests.
1. Common Scholarship Requirements
It is vital to read the fine print that is attached to the scholarship. There will be basic requirements for qualifying including being enrolled in a certain amount of course hours and maintaining a specific GPA. Certain scholarships may stretch beyond academic requirements. There may be commitments required to one or more of the following:
- Regularly attending religious services
- Performing community service or volunteer hours on a weekly or monthly basis
- Working a specific amount of hours on campus each week during your enrollment
- Working within a particular geographic location or in a certain career post-graduation
- Participating in a residency or internship program
- Maintaining a personal ethics or morality code
Note that these conditions must be met every year you attend school to be eligible to receive scholarship funds. Prior to accepting any award, you must be reasonably sure that you can commit to these specific requirements, or you risk losing your funding.
2. How Will Your Scholarship Affect Financial Aid?
Once you have completed the FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, your financial award may be affected when you accept any kind of scholarship. The rules for federal awards state that the amount of need-based aid you are eligible for cannot be more than your financial need. Aid that is also non-need-based may additionally be affected since it is calculated using your cost of attendance minus any aid you have received. If you are awarded scholarships over $300 you will be required to reduce your financial aid package.
It is essential to know these facts and figures to determine your best course of action. Schools typically have a level of flexibility in how they navigate these situations. They may reduce grants instead of loans. It is essential to discuss how scholarships may affect your financial situation before you go ahead and accept them.
3. What is the Scope of the Scholarship?
Understanding the requirements for the scholarship is just one aspect of the puzzle you need to complete. The other is considering how much funding you are being given and how long the funding will be available. Certain scholarships are only valid for one school year at a time. Once your freshman year is complete, you may need to renew or reapply to receive additional scholarship funding.
Other scholarships are designed to cover you from your first day of school until you graduate. You need to break down how far your scholarship funding will go and if you can successfully meet all the requirements. The scholarship value is additionally important to consider.
4. Restrictions for Scholarships
Lastly, you will need to take into consideration whether there are scholarship requirements that include any restrictions that may make you uncomfortable. Some scholarships require that you work and live in a specific state after you graduate for a certain amount of time, often the same length of time you received funding for.
Other scholarships will not allow you to live off-campus during your scholarship. This may increase your cost of living expenses if you were planning on having an off-campus shared accommodation with friends. It is extremely important to read the fine print to ensure there are no surprises. Speak with your school's financial aid office and the sponsoring organization that is offering the scholarship to get the pertinent details if there are any limitations or restrictions you need to know about.
5. Your Long-Term Plan
When you are looking at all the requirements for different scholarships, consider the long and short-term goals. Before you accept any offers, check to see what the requirements are and if there are any strings attached. Remember, if you do not meet the eligibility requirements once you have accepted the offer, you may be responsible for paying back a portion or all the funding that was granted to you.