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Warning: All Scholarships are Not Created Equal

Scholarships are way better than student loans, but some scholarships come with some harsh strings attached.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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Scholarships are by far the best form of financial aid for college.

Scholarships are not required to be repaid, and scholarships are available from a wide variety of sources, including schools, non-profits, and many corporations.

College students who invest their time seeking out assistance are often handsomely rewarded for their efforts.

The one big downside to scholarships is that they can come with some weird strings attached. Recipients should pay call attention to all of the scholarship requirements to ensure that they do not lose their funding.

Common Strings Attached

Keeping a scholarship can often involve ongoing requirements.

Two of the more common requirements are employer-based and major-based.

Many scholarships are available to students in a particular field of study. Within a larger university, specific colleges or departments may offer scholarships to their students. A student who switches from the college of engineering to the English department may find that they lose some scholarship funding. Additionally, outside scholarships may also be limited to students in particular majors.

Department of Education statistics show that at least one-third of four-year degree students change majors. Given how common it is to change majors, it might seem unfair to withhold scholarship funding. Sadly, it is a significant concern that students should consider when exploring other fields of study.

Employers across the country provide scholarships to their employees and children of their employees. Not surprisingly, these scholarships often come with a requirement of ongoing employment. Students dependant upon this funding should have a backup plan ready to go in case somebody unexpectedly loses a job.

Grade Requirements can be Harsh

Many of the substantial scholarships provided by schools come with minimum GPA requirements.

While the practice is common, the exact requirements can vary greatly. Some schools will require that students maintain a minimum of a 3.0 GPA while others require “satisfactory academic progress,” which can be a much more attainable requirement.

The minimum GPA term of a scholarship can be especially hard for a high school senior to evaluate. Many scholarship recipients are top students who have grades far higher than the mandatory B-average. If a college grades students according to a tight bell curve, it is possible that by definition, the average student has less than a 3.0 GPA. At a top school, many excellent students will find themselves below average for the first time. For example, many law schools grade based upon a tight curve, which can make maintaining a minimum GPA can be extremely difficult.

Students considering a school based upon a generous scholarship offer should investigate what percentage of students eventually lose scholarship funding due to GPA requirements.

Those with borderline grades or concerned about meeting the minimum standard should look into padding their schedule with classes where they are likely to excel.

Keep an eye on the Fine Print and Don’t Skip the Silly Details

Some scholarships require that recipients send a thank you letter to the sponsor.

Those who are gifted scholarship funds should probably be sending a thank you note regardless of the requirement, but it is still a strange string to attach to funding.

Other scholarships may require attending certain events or being a member of an organization.

Generally speaking, fulfilling the fine print on scholarship offers is fairly easy. However, it should not be overlooked. Losing out on thousands of dollars for a failure to send a thank-you note would be both ridiculous and devastating.

Pay Attention to Renewal Terms

Some scholarships provide funding for one year or one semester. Others can provide a source of ongoing funding for students.

In some cases, renewal is automatic, but others may require an additional application or further paperwork.

Students should stay in close contact with the scholarship providers to ensure that they do everything necessary to keep funding in place.

Final Thought: Don’t Get Tripped up Just Before the Finish Line

Tracking down scholarship opportunities, qualifying, and completing applications usually is the hard part.

Investigating scholarship fine print takes very little effort and compliance with the terms can be pretty simple.

Don’t make the mistake of doing all the hard work and then skipping over an important detail at the end.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

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