Questions & Answers about Private Scholarships

Questions include when to apply, how they are used, who gets the money, do they affect financial aid offers, and if they are taxed or not.
Student researching scholarships

We hosted a webinar recently about applying for private scholarships, those funds provided by companies, associations, community alliances, and other types of groups that can help students cover college costs. The webinar is full of great information, including the best online search engines, where else to look for scholarships, and helpful tips for winning them. You can watch the webinar recording anytime. We've listed some of the questions we received during the presentation with their answers below.

When is the best time to start looking for scholarships?

It's really never too early to begin the scholarship search, as there are actually scholarships available for students as young as five years old. But the majority of scholarships are open to students who are high school seniors or currently in college, so it's probably best to start looking in full force in the summer before the student's high school senior year.

Are scholarships bound to a particular school or can you use them at any school?

Most private scholarships that aren't affiliated with a college can be used at most colleges and universities across the country. Contact the scholarship agency if you have questions about limitations on the scholarship's use.

Do you need to name a particular college when you apply for a scholarship?

Not typically. However, often after you've won a scholarship, the agency will ask you to name the college you plan to attend, once you've made that decision, and then send the scholarship funds directly to the college.

Do scholarships get paid to the student or the college?

It depends on the scholarship agency. Some send the funds directly to the student. Others will find out the college where the student plans to or is already attending, and will then send the funds directly to the school. If you have a college bill due and you plan to have your scholarship cover part of your expenses, alert the financial aid office that your scholarship funds will be arriving soon.

How do scholarships affect financial aid offers?

Colleges can offer you need-based financial aid up to your total amount of financial aid eligibility, which is calculated as the difference between the college's cost of attendance and your Student Aid Index. If you receive need-based aid, your private scholarships must be included in that total. Therefore, if your financial aid exactly meets your financial aid eligibility, and you receive a private scholarship, your college may need to reduce your financial aid, though there are often adjustments that can avoid this. If you're unsure how a specific scholarship will affect your financial aid offer, contact the school's financial aid office.

Are scholarships taxed?

Scholarships only need to be reported on your tax return as taxable income if they exceed your qualified educational expenses, including tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Contact your tax preparer for additional details.

If you're interested in scholarships and haven't yet watched our Applying for College Scholarships webinar, we highly recommend it. You can find it online here anytime, and it includes a PDF of the scholarship slides if you'd like to print those for note-taking or reference. And if you have questions about private scholarships, we are happy to help. Reach out to us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or