Are you a talented, dedicated student looking for free scholarships? Well, you’re in luck, because there are no scholarships that aren’t free! Scholarships are by definition, gifts of money to cover part or all the costs of attending post-secondary educational institutions. There seems to be a great deal of confusion among high school, vocational school, college and university students abut the types of funding available to them, and what each type offers, given their individual conditions of eligibility.

Student loans are not free, not in the long run. They are awarded to students who need assistance in paying for the costs of higher education, but at some point down the road, every cent must be paid back, sometimes with added interest. The payback period usually commences due to one of the following occurrences:

1. The student completes their degree and begins to work in their chosen field.
2. The student quits college or university in favor of joining the workforce and is earning a steady income.
3. The student receives a large sum of money, for example, a lottery win, inheritance or other significant chunk of income, sufficient to repay the loan and/or continue paying the cost of the education without assistance.

Grants and scholarships are free. They are monetary gifts, sometimes with conditions, but never with a repayment criterion. Those organizations and institutions that hand out grants and scholarships always have some form of eligibility requirements, and if you meet those, you’re welcome to apply. What’s the main difference between free scholarships and free grants? Here, in a nutshell, are the common characteristics of grants that are awarded as gifts to people who exhibit one or more of the following conditions:

• financial need, sometimes extreme (such as poverty)
• visible minority or ethnicity
• female (often regarded as “gender-disadvantaged”)
• single parents, especially single mothers
• in some way physically disabled
• certain forms of mental disability
• older students, perhaps who never had the chance to attend post-secondary education when they graduated high school

Free scholarships are a very different type of monetary gift intended for the payment of further education. While they may be, and often are, awarded to individuals who match the above list, they are regarded as “merit-based” grants. In other words, you need more than just fiscal need or to be a minority to be given a free scholarship. Scholarships are awarded to students who show (and can prove) the following things:

• exceptional skill or talent in a certain subject or in school in general
• demonstrated involvement in other aspects of their school besides pure education (such as school newspaper editor, mentor to younger students or tutoring those having difficulty, coaching sports teams, or being involved in the student council or other governing body)
• getting grades in the top percentage of their class
• getting overall grades that are very high
• being involved in a meaningful way in their community in activities such as helping children, community projects, and environmental stewardship, etc.
• having a clean record, with no criminal convictions (or even arrests), and being a responsible, model citizen

Let’s say you meet these criteria, then how do you go about getting a free scholarship? Unlike grants, under-graduate scholarships don’t normally come from the government or directly from the colleges and universities (although a great number of post-graduate free scholarships are obtained directly from the schools). Your university or college student finance department will have information on what scholarships are available to you. Many are offered by such granting bodies as:

• specialized departments at universities
• university alumni associations
• professional associations (such as accountants and lawyers)
• private foundations
• large corporations
• memorial trusts (these are sometimes part of alumni groups)
• competitions
• charitable trusts and organizations
• special-interest groups
• organizations in support of women
• organizations that are committed to furthering the lives of ethnic minorities
• university athletic departments seeking to recruit excellent team players

When conducting your research for potential free scholarships, be aware that, like any other financial option, there are fraudulent purveyors out there. Free means free; never send money to an organization that wants you to pay an application fee or other up-front processing fee. There are, of course, exceptions, but reply upon the knowledge and experience of your university or college student finance office to ensure the scholarship is legitimate and worthwhile. Also be aware that not everyone who applies for a scholarship gets one; there are only so many to go around.

When you sign an agreement or acceptance for the funds being given to you from a scholarship, read the fine print. Be certain that there are no repayment terms hidden there. A free scholarship does not have to be repaid. However, you might also find caveats that are valid, such as specific performance. A scholarship granted to you on, for example, merit and stewardship, might have the legal right to withdraw funding (unless 100% of the funds were paid in advance) if you do something that changes the specifics of your qualification criteria or somehow embarrasses the organization that gave you the scholarship.

This could occur, for example, if you were awarded a free scholarship to complete your masters degree and then quit half way through. Or if, for instance, a distiller provided a scholarship for your medical studies and then you were convicted of a drunk driving offence.

Scholarships are, and should be, a barometer for exemplary effort and behavior. They may be free, but they almost invariably come with common-sense conditions. If you live a decent, respectable life and work hard at your studies in order to pave a bright future for yourself, you are the type of person that deserves and often receives free scholarships. That is what is meant by the term “merit-based”. You must have done something to warrant this gift of money to further your higher education. Whether it’s good grades or outstanding citizenry, let it be a template for the rest of your life. Free scholarships can get you on the right path.

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