A college scholarship is a sum of money that students use directly towards paying for their education. Scholarships and grants are alike in this, but scholarships are awarded more for merit — achieving at a level defined by the scholarship sponsors — whereas grants are usually awarded more for financial need.

A scholarship is essentially a gift of money awarded to you in recognition of an ability, talent, or quality that the scholarship sponsor deemed worthy of reward. As such, it usually comes with the understanding that it will be used only for the higher education program the scholarship sponsor reviewed, and with the expectation that you will fulfill your education program and use what you’ve learned to create a better future for yourself (and perhaps for others).

Scholarships range in amount and are offered primarily by colleges and universities, but also by sponsors from civic to wild and crazy. Most scholarships are awarded to students showing academic, artistic, or athletic promise. Some are offered to students of all income levels; others may be tailored for talented but more disadvantaged applicants such as minority students or disabled students.

If you or your family is associated with a particular trade or cultural society, you may find that it offers scholarships for which you are uniquely qualified. The Two Ten Foundation, for example, provides college scholarships to students who are in some way affiliated with the footwear industry — as a child of a long-time footwear industry employee, for example. There are also many scholarships specifically for students enrolling in certain programs such as healthcare, environmental science, music, or dance, to name just a handful.

In fact, there are thousands of scholarships offered by colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations, and private companies every year, all of which are looking for students who demonstrate commitment and the desire to excel. Such scholarship applications may require anything from a compelling essay to an art or film portfolio to a history of dedicated community service to an extraordinary ability to overcome adversity. You should spend some time researching scholarships and apply for every one for which you qualify.

Check out the left-hand side of this page for more opportunities for private scholarships, unusual scholarships, military scholarships, scholarships for non-traditional students, and scholarships for minorities.