College Scholarships: What Can They Be Used On?

By Carol Katarsky Updated on March 24, 2022

Scholarship money is a great way to secure funding for college because it doesn't have to be repaid at the end of your college career. They're funds awarded to provide some financial assistance to students and their families while attending college.

But — what exactly can you use scholarship money for? College scholarships are meant to fund many of the average costs of receiving a higher education. heavilyheavilyIf you find yourself needing to fill the gap between your federal aid and any scholarships or grants you win, private student loans can help you bridge that gap.

Most popular things to use scholarship money toward

How your scholarship money is delivered to you may affect your options for using it. While money from most large scholarships is sent directly to your college, some scholarship money may be paid directly to you. It’s also possible that you'll receive a refund check from your college for any unused scholarship funds.

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If you receive scholarship funds directly, be sure to follow all rules about how you can — and can’t — use that money. If you have any doubt, talk to your financial aid office for guidance about how to use scholarship money and what expenses, like these, can be covered by scholarship money. These include:

  • Tuition 

  • Room and board 

  • Course materials

  • Living expenses

Tuition

Tuition is the price for taking classes and can range from 20% to 39% of the total budget for attending one year of college, according to the College Board. Most scholarship money can be applied to tuition as well as the other costs associated with college. 

Unlike financial aid, which is generally provided to college students based on financial need, scholarship money doesn't have a cap. Financial aid packages are usually awarded partially based on your cost of attendance. However, you can continue to earn scholarship money even if you cover the full cost of your tuition.

Room and board

If you are going away to college and will live in a dorm or an apartment, you’ll have expenses for housing and food throughout the academic year. Some scholarships cover room and board costs. Your award materials will provide the details if your scholarship pays for housing. If you can’t find that information, contact the scholarship provider directly and ask if your scholarship will cover room and board.

Course materials

The average cost of books and course materials for a full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public college is close to $1,300 per year, according to the College Board. Scholarship money can be used for books and supplies. Several scholarships from publishers and bookstores are available that specifically cover book costs.

Additionally, you may be able to find a scholarship program to cover other college costs you might not have thought about, like laptops, notebooks, and other expenses necessary to complete your coursework.

Living expenses

Other education expenses associated with going to college can include transportation, technology, and healthcare. Scholarships for living expenses may cover these costs, but it's important to understand the types of living expenses your scholarship money can cover before you spend it.

What you can’t use scholarship money on

No matter the amount of scholarship money you're awarded, each scholarship will designate exactly what the money can be used for. It's your responsibility to understand those rules. Read your scholarship award details carefully. Even if a scholarship covers living expenses, there'll be language indicating the types of personal expenses allowed (such as travel or food).

Top Tips for Keeping Your College Scholarships

Scholarships come with strings attached, such as requirements to keep a minimum grade point average, take certain types of classes, or pay for specific items as mentioned above to ensure you'll use the scholarship toward your education.  If you spend scholarship money on things the scholarship rules prohibit, or don’t follow other requirements, you may be responsible for paying the money back, possibly with interest according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Scholarship providers want to make sure you’re not using their money to fund your spring break vacations, nights out, or other non-essential college expenses.

College education is expensive. Scholarships are a sensible way to bridge the gap between the increasing cost of tuition and your budget. Fortune favors the prepared — research college scholarship opportunities and make a plan to apply. When you do, make sure you avoid these seven big mistakes in order to enhance your chances of securing scholarship funds.

Where to find scholarships

If you’re starting to secure funding for your college education, scholarships are a great first step. While there are restrictions as to what you can use them on, they can definitely help offset the cost of college.

When starting your scholarship search, you should focus heavily on the eligibility requirements. Some may have restrictions on what type of students can apply, such as whether you’re a high school student, current college student, or graduate student. Additionally, you may need to meet certain GPA requirements or be enrolled in a particular academic program.

There are plenty of places you can find both public and private scholarships to help fund your education. Whether you apply for national scholarships or ones within your local community, you're bound to find a few you're eligible for. Take an organized and deliberate approach to finding scholarships that match your achievements and passions.

Learn more about scholarship resources with Nitro

Scholarships are a great way to secure free money to fund your college tuition. You don’t have to pay them back at the end of your college career like student loans and some other forms of financial aid, and there are tons on the market.

Nitro is a great resource to learn more about scholarships and how to secure them. Additionally, you can find help at every step of the college planning process — from applications, filling out the FAFSA, all the way to paying back your student loans post-graduation. You can also apply for the $2,000 Nitro College Scholarship — no essay required!

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Published in: Scholarships

About the Author
Carol Katarsky

Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky