Updated: Feb 09, 2021
Earning a scholarship (or scholarships) to college is reason to breathe a huge sigh of relief. After all, out-of-state tuition and fees at public, four-year institutions rose from $26,200 in 2018-19 to $26,820 in 2019-20, according to the College Board.
But while scholarships can ease the burden of paying for college and potentially help you avoid taking on some student loan debt, they sometimes come with strings attached.
If you've been offered a scholarship with conditions, consider these factors to help you decide if accepting is the right move.
First thing's first: Read the fine print. Typical scholarship requirements include maintaining a certain GPA and enrolling in a minimum number of course hours.
Some scholarship requirements, however, may look beyond academics. Depending on the scholarship, that may mean a commitment to:
These conditions may need to be met each year you are in school to continue to receive scholarship funding. Before accepting an award, you have to be reasonably sure that you're able to, and can commit to, these scholarship requirements.
Scholarship requirements are just one part of the puzzle you need to evaluate. The other is how much funding you're being offered and for how long.
Some scholarships apply to only a single year of school at a time. So after your freshman year, you may need to reapply or renew your scholarship for additional funding. Others are designed to cover you from your first day of school until graduation. You need to know how long you can count on scholarship funding, assuming you continue to meet its requirements.
The value of the scholarship is also important. For example, if you're being offered a large enough scholarship to cover all of your attendance costs, you'd have to weigh that against the requirements you're expected to meet.
If you completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), then your financial aid award could be affected if you accept scholarships. Federal award rules state that the amount of need-based aid you can receive can't be more than your actual financial need. Non-need-based aid can also be affected because it is calculated using your cost of attendance minus any aid you've already received. If you are awarded scholarships that exceed $300, then schools are required to reduce your financial aid package. Schools have some flexibility in how they do this (e.g., reducing grants versus loans), so it's important to talk to them about how scholarships could affect yours before you decide to accept them.
The final thing to consider is whether there are scholarship requirements that include restrictions you might not be comfortable with. The New York State Excelsior Scholarship, for instance, requires you to live and work in New York State after graduation for the same length of time you received funding. And the University of South Florida Housing Resident Scholarship doesn't allow you to live off-campus for the duration of the scholarship.
Your school's financial aid office and the organization sponsoring the scholarship should be able to give you the rundown on any restrictions or limitations associated with it.
When reviewing scholarship requirements, remember to consider both the short and long-term. And before accepting, remember that if a scholarship comes with strings attached and you don't meet the requirements, you may be expected to repay some or all of the funding you received.
FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans