Scholarships vs. Financial Aid
Updated: Mar 18
Scholarships and financial aid are terms that are used interchangeably, but are they the same? Both methods are used to pay for college but they are completely different. We’ve put together a deeper description of both scholarships and financial aid.
What is a scholarship? A scholarship is financial support distributed to a student, based on academic achievement or other criteria that may include financial need, for educational purposes. A scholarship does not need to be paid back to the distributor, it can be thought of as a gift.
Are there different types of scholarships? Yes, there are many different types of scholarships available, but the most common are:
Merit-based scholarships - Merit-based scholarships are typically awarded on the basis of academic achievement, athletic or artistic merit, community involvement, additionally any specific characteristic or talent.
Need-based scholarships - Need-based scholarships are simply what their title states: money for students with a financial need.
The distributor of the scholarship sets the criteria for recipient selection, and determines how the money is to be applied. The funds are used to cover the costs of tuition, books, room and board, and any finances tied to a student’s educational commitment throughout their time at a university.
How do I apply for a scholarship? Generally, colleges award merit-based scholarships along with an admissions decision, additionally you can search for scholarships by university, your home country, intended major, extracurricular activities, and more. There are several tools you can use to find scholarships, we recommend starting with scholarship distribution websites, narrowing down the categories you may belong to. We also recommend asking the admissions office for any tools that will help you in your scholarship search. Here are 5 scholarship application tips for international students.
What is financial aid? Financial aid is funding provided to students, to help pay for college, including grants and loans. Keep in mind that student loans can be lumped in with the financial aid package that is distributed to students, but loans must be paid back after graduation.
International students are not eligible to receive funding from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FASFA. You may still be eligible for institutional aid, we encourage you to check with the university’s financial aid office regarding possible financial eligibility.
Are there different types of financial aid? Yes, there are grants and loans, which all fall under the financial aid umbrella.
Grants - Grants are dispersed by the students financial need and not academic achievement or any type of merit. They are awarded through the institution to the student.
Loans - A loan is money you borrow from the federal government or a private lender and must pay back with interest. A loan can cover the costs of tuition, books, supplies, room and board. Federal loans are more flexible and hold a lower interest rate than private loans. There are two types of direct student loans:
Subsidized loan - A loan that doesn’t accrue interest while you’re actively enrolled in college, only undergraduate students with financial need are eligible.
Unsubsidized loan - A loan that accrues interest as soon as it is disbursed. Undergraduate, graduate and professional students are eligible for this.
How do I apply for financial aid? Reach out to your institution's financial aid office, there you will be directed and receive information on how to apply for grants and which loans you qualify for as an international student.
There are distinct differences between scholarships and financial aid, but they are both intended to provide the same outcome, financial assistance to pay for college. Our recommendation is to research both options, determine which is best for you and your financial situation, and move forward to see what you qualify for. It is very important to understand how to estimate the cost of attendance when looking for scholarships and other financial aid.
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