The Pros and Cons of Big and Small Scholarship Awards

There's merit to putting in effort for both large and small scholarships. Here are the pros and cons of each amount to consider while conducting your search.

Private scholarship awards from companies, organizations, individuals, and foundations can range from $500 to over $200,000. With college costs continuing to rise, the total educational expenses a student takes on can be in the high five-figure range—and sometimes even six figures. This is especially true for students pursuing a career that requires acquiring multiple degrees. With costs so high, many families I speak with ask: Is applying to small scholarship awards are even worth it? There are pros and cons to applying to scholarships with small amounts as well as with those with big amounts. Here's what you should know.

Pros and cons of smaller scholarship awards 

  • Pro: With awards only in the three- and four-figure range, the quantity of small-award private scholarships is extremely high.
  • Con: The same amount of time spent on a small scholarship could also be spent on a large-award application. This makes the financial return on time investment dramatically different.
  • Pro: Fewer students apply for smaller scholarships, so your chance of being the recipient increases greatly. Many scholarships that are $1,000 or less have dramatically fewer applicants. Stacking smaller scholarship awards can build a significant overall pile of award money.
  • Con: Many local scholarships will be smaller money awards. Finding out about local scholarships can be more difficult as there’s usually limited promotion, outreach, and marketing about the opportunity to the general public. 

Examples of small scholarships 

  • Nitro Scholarship: This monthly scholarship is open to high school seniors, parents of high school seniors, current college students, and students or parents of students who’ve graduated from an accredited undergraduate school and are currently paying back student or parent loans. The award is for $2,000 with a new deadline on the last day of each month.
  • One Move Ahead Chess Scholarship: This scholarship is open to students of all education levels who play chess. The award is $1,000 and has a deadline of March 29. 
  • Brower Youth Award for Environmental Leadership: This scholarship is from the Earth Island Institute. Students from the US, Mexico, Canada, and Caribbean countries ages 13–22 who are youth environmental change leaders are encouraged to apply. The awards go up to $3,000, plus a trip to California. The deadline to apply is May 14.  

Related: Scholarships: Tips, Tricks, and Why They Matter

Pros and cons of large scholarship awards

  • Pro: With awards in the five- and six-figure range, recipients can dramatically cut or even eliminate educational costs by receiving just one award.
  • Con: Large scholarships are highly advertised, promoted, and used by companies, organizations, and foundations as effective publicity tools to demonstrate social responsibility and community impact. Publicity increases the number of applicants who will compete for the award.
  • Pro and con: Substantial scholarships are usually offered nationally or internationally. While this is great news for individuals of a wide variety of backgrounds seeking opportunities to apply for, it increases the number of potential competing applicants. 

Examples of large scholarships

  • Cameron Impact Scholarship: This scholarship from the Bryan Cameron Education Foundation is merit based, not need based. It’s open to high school seniors with a 3.7 GPA or higher who plan to have a significant impact on the world. Awards from $20,000–$50,000 are given each year. The early deadline to apply is May 21, and the final deadline is September 10.
  • Evans Scholars Foundation: This scholarship from Western Golf Association is for high school seniors who’ve caddied for at least two years and have limited financial means. It covers full tuition and housing with award amounts up to $120,000. Students must have a minimum 3.3 GPA and apply by the deadline on October 30.
  • QuestBridge National College Match: This scholarship is for low-income high school seniors who excel academically but feel high-cost colleges are financially out of reach. Awards are given for $200,000 or more, and the deadline is September 29.  

Related: 3 Questions to Ask as You Look for Scholarships 

Your scholarship pursuit should include both small and large award opportunities. Plan to have applications ready and complete well in advance for big-money opportunities, and use the large quantity of small-money awards out there to maintain momentum and structure during your weekly scholarship search routine.

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About Jean O'Toole

Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying Jean’s scholarship strategies. In 2008, Jean co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. Visit connections101.com for more information, and follow Jean on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

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