How to Get Scholarships for College: Your 2024 Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to find and apply for scholarships to finance your college education.

[Featured image] A young woman with short, curly black hair sits on her couch, smiling at her laptop.

Scholarships are one of the many ways you can pay for the cost of college, and tend to be awarded based on factors like your academic achievements, larger career or community aspirations, or financial need. Unlike other types of aid, such as student loans, you don’t have to pay your scholarship back, which can make it especially appealing.   

However, finding and applying for the right scholarships also take work. In this article, we’ll review how to find relevant scholarships, how to ensure you're qualified, and how to apply. 

Where to find scholarships for college

If you plan to attend college in the US or Canada, you'll want to apply for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which determines your eligibility for college-related financial assistance and often includes types of aid like grants and scholarships.

Beyond FAFSA, applying for individual scholarships tends to be a numbers game in that students who apply for more of them inevitably have a higher chance of getting one. Scholarships are available from various institutions and organizations, and you can learn about them in several different ways.

You can start by conducting an online search—or you can reach out and inquire about any scholarships opportunities from national foundations or local organizations.

Scholarship sites

The majority of scholarship information is now online, so it can be useful to start your search there. The sites below aggregate scholarships:

Other sources for scholarship information

It may also be beneficial to approach more local sources of information, like the ones below:

  • A high school guidance counselor

  • The financial aid office at your future or current college

  • Religious or community organizations

  • National foundations

  • Local businesses

  • Professional associations

  • Your employer

Learn more: What is Tuition Reimbursement?

Types of scholarships

Scholarships can either cover the entirety of your tuition or a portion of it, such as your books and materials. If applying for a $500 scholarship doesn't seem worth the effort compared to larger awards, it's worth noting that the pool of applicants may be much smaller, possibly increasing your chances of getting it. Winning several smaller scholarships can still reduce the cost of your education.

As we mentioned, there are many types of scholarships to consider applying for. Let's review some of the most common.

1. Merit-based (academic) scholarships

If you meet or exceed standards of academic achievement or a mix of academics and extracurricular leadership, you may qualify for a merit-based scholarship.

2. Need-based scholarships

If you've demonstrated financial need, you may qualify for certain needs-based scholarships, which will cover your education without additional qualifications, like demonstrating outstanding academic achievement or belonging to an identity-based group.

3. Identity-based scholarships

There are many identity-based scholarships meant to support underserved or marginalized populations, such as BIPOC students, LGTBQ+ students, students of Native American heritage, and women students.

4. Subject-based scholarships

If you're interested in majoring in a certain area, you may be able to find scholarships funded by organizations invested in developing future talent.

5. Membership or extracurricular-based scholarships

If you're a member of an organization or club, or participate in an extracurricular activity—like playing music or community service—you may be able to find relevant scholarships that support your development.

General qualifications for getting scholarships

Requirements vary by scholarship, but generally the most common scholarship qualifications are:

  • Having graduated (or being on track to graduate) from high school

  • Having applied to an accredited college or university

  • Being in good academic standing

  • Being a US citizen or qualifying non-US citizen

As part of the application process, you’ll likely submit materials beyond a standard application so the decision-makers can get to know all applicants and choose the right awardees. These can include:

Some scholarships may have further stipulations that require you to meet other conditions,  such as participating in an internship, volunteering in a community service program, working on-campus for a certain number of hours, attending religious services on a regular basis, or working in a specific field after graduation. Make sure to read the fine print or details so you’re aware of any responsibilities you may have in exchange for your award.

How to get a scholarship for college

Here are some tips for landing a scholarship to help pay for your college education.

1. Start early.

Scholarships tend to be offered on a yearly basis, so plan to start researching potential scholarships early—likely for the following academic year. It’s also important to double-check the qualifications and read the fine print. You don't want to add a scholarship to your list if it turns out you can't apply to it for some reason.

2. Make a list.

Start tracking your scholarships in a spreadsheet, listing out deadlines and any materials you need to gather beyond the standard application. You’ll want to be ready to submit well before the deadline, with all the required materials.

Tracking everything in a spreadsheet will also help you filter those with upcoming deadlines or that award more money so you can prioritize accordingly.

3. Draft your applications.

Typically, scholarship applications require a personal statement or essay, transcripts, and SAT or ACT scores. Brainstorm ideas for your personal statement, which tends to be the component that takes the longest. Start drafting early, long

before the deadline, so you have time to edit, revise, and get feedback from others.

4. Submit your application before the deadline.

There’s nothing worse than missing the deadline by a day and potentially losing out on thousands of dollars. Better still, to apply early.

Once you’ve submitted your best work, sit back and move o

n to something else. Be patient and kind to yourself as you wait to hear back. Rejections are a part of life, but if you do get a scholarship, celebrate that win.

How scholarships affect financial aid: Your combined sum of scholarships and financial aid cannot exceed the cost of attending your college or university. It's important to let your school know about any scholarships you receive so the financial aid office can subtract that from your tuition and determine how much financial aid you’re eligible for. 


Earn degree credit through your prior learning on Coursera

When you complete select Professional Certificates on Coursera, you may be eligible for degree credit in certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees offered through Coursera’s esteemed university partners. Explore our catalog of degree programs from top-ranking US and global institutions and learn about scholarships and grants you may be eligible for. 

You are Currently on slide 1
You are Currently on slide 1

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.