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Scholarships and the Online Student

The tuition and fees related to the pursuit of higher education continue to increase and online education at a for-profit institution can be more expensive than its traditional counterpart. Faced with educational decisions that include financial considerations, many students seek out available sources of financial assistance. The process for locating, applying for, and using scholarships is the same for traditional and online students. Grants, loans, and scholarships may each play a role in helping you reach your education goals.

  • Grants – money that does not have to be paid back, provided by government and other sources, usually based on some sort of qualification criteria, such as income.
  • Loans – borrowed money that must be paid back, sometimes with interest, and can come from government and private sources.
  • Scholarships – money given in recognition of merit or skill, or by meeting specific criteria. Scholarships do not have to be paid back.

A good source of loan and grant information is the Federal Student Aid site. This post is focused on recommendations for moving forward with your search for scholarship funding and sources for scholarship information.

Tap into Your Resources

Scholarships are provided by a wide range of sources and for an equally wide range of reasons. These funds can be based on financial situation, grades and academic honors, academic major, specific skills or interests, minority status and many other criteria. Some are quite specialized – are you the first in your family to attend college, a single parent, a local volunteer? Take a look at the list below and plan some time to explore each of these avenues as part of your search.

Your School

Take the initiative to ask questions within your school and program. Talk with academic and career advisors and your instructors to find out more about what types of scholarships may be available within your school. These sources are also knowledgeable about outside scholarship opportunities. Start with a check of your school's website. Capella University's scholarship page is an example of the information you can find online. Are you a member of an academic honor society? These groups commonly sponsor scholarships. Alumni groups are also a good source of information. 

Online Databases

You can easily find information about scholarships online with websites that feature database searches. These sites not only offer searchable lists, but also a lot of additional reference information including financial aid calculators, advice on applications, and links to other financial aid considerations. Here are a few sites to get you started:

Each of these sites links to additional database searches! Find the ones that work best for you and continue to collect resources and information.

Local Organizations and Agencies

Check with your State Department of Education (found on this list) for available scholarships, including some reserved for residents of your state. Take a look at examples posted for Kentucky and Arizona. To find scholarship information on these sites, look for menus and pages for "students" and use the search features.

Explore all of the possibilities in your community. Are you a member of a religious organization? Do you participate in volunteer activities with non-profit groups? Have you served in the military? Brainstorm a list of local contacts and groups and then find out if there are scholarships available. Your connections in these groups may also serve as references for other scholarship applications.

Don't forget to access your professional network as well for information about scholarships. Your employer may offer scholarship opportunities or other funding assistance to help you continue your education. Are you a member of a professional association? These groups are also good sources of scholarship funding and information.


The Application Process

Once you've located the scholarships you want to pursue, the next step will be completing the applications. This can be a time consuming process, so make sure you know the deadlines and plan accordingly. The applications themselves can be quite lengthy, but the details and requirements will be different for each one. Be prepared to complete a standard application with your name, address, and contact information, and gather additional materials. Your scholarship applications may contain some of the following requirements:

  • Recommendations Letter(s)
  • Transcripts
  • Letter of Interest/Cover Letter
  • Personal Essay
  • Photo
  • Interview
  • Other qualification credentials (e.g. membership in an organization)

Many applications can be found online.

Make sure each application you submit is complete and correct. Provide all of the information requested and consider having someone proofread your materials for typos and mistakes. Follow the instructions carefully. Assume that many other students will be applying and make your application as competitive as possible.


Dos and Don'ts

A few guidelines to keep in mind as you move forward in your search for scholarships:


… pay attention to eligibility criteria and apply only to the scholarships that you qualify for.

… check where and how the scholarship can be used, most can be applied to tuition and fees at accredited institutions – online or traditional – but you should confirm with both the scholarship source and your school before accepting.


… pay a fee to find out about scholarships. There are several online services that require you to pay or subscribe to get information. The College Board warns against these types of sites as potential scholarship scams.

… assume that scholarships are a given. While there are many opportunities out there, you won't know if you will receive funding until you apply and are awarded a scholarship.

Start your search early and ask lots of questions! Finding and applying for multiple scholarships takes time. Having funding sources lined up before you begin your program will alleviate some of the stress involved in the transition related to becoming an online student.