4 Smart Ways to Use Your Scholarship Money

Did you win a scholarship? Find out how you can use your money to help pay for college.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 05, 2021

4 Smart Ways to Use Your Scholarship Money
Your scholarship money can pay for more than tuition. Use it wisely.
Whether you’ve already won a scholarship or you’ve been busy applying to multiple opportunities, you’ve very likely dreamt of what you’d do with your award money. Scholarships can go a long way toward helping you pay for college, eliminating student loan debt, and relieving any stress you may feel about the college paying process. But once you have all of that scholarship money, what are you supposed to do with it? While some scholarship providers have very strict requirements for how the award money should be used, others are very open-ended in how you should spend it. As a student, you can be tempted to spend your scholarship money on things like late-night pizza delivery, new clothes for the upcoming semester, or travel. Instead, you should focus on spending your scholarship dollars wisely. It will pay off for you in the end.
  1. Tuition

    A majority of scholarships have a prerequisite that you spend award money on tuition only. This makes it easy for those who would be tempted to spend it elsewhere. Given the fact that tuition will be your biggest college expense, it makes sense to first spend your money on this component of your college costs. It should be noted here that you must report outside scholarship wins to your college. Because of your scholarship win, the school will actually deduct financial aid from your package. This is not to punish you. First, if you have a gap between your financial aid package, and what the college costs, your scholarship will be applied to fill the gap. IF your scholarship is enough to cover the gap and then some, the school will begin deducting financial aid from your package. This enables them to reallocate financial aid to students that may need it more.
    Second, your financial aid office will actually remove student loans from your package first. This will prevent you from graduating with student loan debt, which is a real help to you. They will not deduct grant aid from your package – unless you win so many scholarships that the entirety of your college costs are covered.
  2. Room and Board

    If you win a scholarship that does not specify that it must be used for tuition only, your award money can pay for room and board. These actually make up a significant amount of your college costs as well. Room and board is what you pay to live on campus and eat with the college meal plan. Obviously, if you live off campus and will be cooking your own meals, you will not need scholarship money to cover room and board (although there may be some scholarships out there that would cover your off-campus living costs).
    If you don’t know for sure whether your money will cover room and board, ask the scholarship provider. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to contact scholarship providers to see exactly what you can use the award money for before you apply.
  3. Education Expenses

    Wait, aren’t your education expenses “tuition?” Though tuition covers your instruction, you still require other materials for your education. These include supplies, textbooks, and technological needs, like laptops, tablets, and printers. According to PhilonEdTech, college students spend roughly $1,200 per year on textbooks and other education materials. So, if you think that a $500 scholarship is too insignificant an amount to help pay for college, think again. It almost covers half of your textbook costs, and a $500 scholarship is $500 less that you’ll have to pay back in student loan debt. Again, this is something you will need to ask the scholarship provider: does your scholarship cover education expenses? Does it exclude certain expenses? Or what specifically can I use this money toward under the umbrella of “education expenses?”
  4. Living Expenses

    Finally, you may be able to use your scholarship dollars to cover living expenses. If you are a student that lives off campus, this may include your apartment rental or groceries. However, if you do live on campus, living expenses can range from transportation to health care. Transportation can cover flights to and from school if you live farther away, a car payment, or gas. You may also use award money for healthcare needs, like co-pays or prescriptions. Just like the above components, you need to check with the scholarship provider to see if their award covers living expenses. This is where you need to get really detailed. If they do cover living expenses, make a plan on what you will spend your money on and communicate it to the scholarship provider. Who knows? They may be very flexible with their requirements and allow you to use it for spring break!

Moral of the Story? Ask Questions

As you go throughout the college and scholarship search and application process, you’ll eventually learn one very important lesson: never assume anything. It is always better to ask questions and know exactly what scholarship requirements and winning prerequisites are in place for the opportunities to which you’re applying. Ask the scholarship providers about how you can use your scholarship money. Ask them how they will distribute the money if it’s not going directly to your college. Scholarship providers love when applicants ask questions – so take advantage of their willingness to help and provide clarity to the process.

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