A scholarship is an award of financial aid for a student to further education. Scholarships are awarded on various criteria usually reflecting the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.
The most common scholarships may be classified as:
- Merit-based: These awards are based on a student's academic, artistic, athletic or other abilities, and often factor in an applicant's extracurricular activities and community service record. The most common merit-based scholarships, awarded by either private organizations or directly by a student's intended college, recognize academic achievement or high scores on standardized tests.
- Need-based: In the United States, these awards are based on the student and family's financial record and will require applicants to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify if the scholarship is a federal award. Private need-based scholarships will also often require the results of a FAFSA, which calculates a student's financial need through a formula looking at the expected family contribution and cost of attendance at the intended college.
- Student-specific: These are scholarships where applicants must initially qualify by gender, race, religion, family and medical history, or many other student-specific factors. Minority scholarships are the most common awards in this category. For example, students in Canada may qualify for a number of aboriginal scholarships, whether they study at home or abroad. The Gates Millennium Scholars program is another minority scholarship funded by Bill and Merinda Gates for excellent African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific Islander American and Latino students who will be enrolling in college.
- Career-specific: These are scholarships awarded by a college or university to students planning to pursue a specific field of study. Often the most generous awards are given to students pursuing careers in high-need areas such as education or nursing. Nursing students are in high demand and many schools in the United States will give future nurses full scholarships to enter the field, especially if the student intends to work in a high-need community.
- College-specific: College-specific scholarships are offered by individual colleges and universities to highly qualified applicants. These scholarships, given on the basis of academic and personal achievement, usually result in either a full-ride to the college, or for a reduced rate of tuition.
Some scholarships have a "bond" requirement. Recipients may be required to work for a particular employer for a specified period of time or to work in rural or remote areas; otherwise they may be required to repay the value of the support they received from the scholarship. This is particularly the case with education and nursing scholarships for people prepared to work in rural and remote areas. The programs offered by the uniformed services of the United States (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps) sometimes resemble such scholarships.