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Mythbusting Scholarships: What You Need to Know About Financial Aid

Every penny you can earn in scholarships, grants, or other financial aid will help you accomplish your educational goals, but there are many misconceptions out there about financial aid that prevent students from getting the financial assistance they are eligible for. Brenda Escutia, manager of scholarships and special projects at Harper College, breaks down 8 common myths about financial aid and sets the record straight about how students of all kinds can benefit from them.

Myth: If you don’t qualify for grants through FAFSA, you can’t get scholarships.

Fact: Many scholarships have various criteria that aren’t related to financial needs. Often students think because they don’t qualify for Pell or MAP grants based on federal guidelines, then they can’t get other financial aid. But many colleges and universities don’t even look at a student’s FAFSA to determine their financial needs. Instead, they rely on their essay and other application questions to determine the financial needs of the student.

Myth: Undocumented students can’t receive scholarships.

Fact: Depending on the state, undocumented students can still receive state funding or get scholarships through the institution. At Harper, there’s only a small amount of scholarships that require citizenship status, but all the others do not. If a school doesn’t ask for a student’s citizenship status, the only way to verify the scholarships that require applicants to be citizens is if they apply through FAFSA.

Myth: International students aren’t eligible for financial aid.

Fact: Most institutions have scholarships specifically for international students, who often think they don’t quality based on the limitations of their visa. International students at Harper can also get in-district tuition if they work on campus, which can mean a difference of thousands of dollars in savings.

Myth: Applying for scholarships is too time-consuming.

Fact: While it does take some time to apply, modern technology makes the process much more efficient. Instead of having to go to multiple websites, read various criteria for each individual scholarship, and then apply to the ones that you qualify for, the majority of donor-sponsored scholarships are awarded through one application that automatically matches you to all scholarship opportunities you qualify for. This process takes into account essay questions, multiple choice answers and demographic data to provide the best options for you.

Myth: All scholarships are non-refundable.

Fact: Depending on the type of aid, you can get awarded extra funds even if you have a scholarship that has already paid for your expenses. For example, if a certain scholarship is designated as refundable and there’s only one applicant eligible for it, but that student’s balance is already paid off, they can still receive the funds by check or direct deposit directly from the school. Individual donors who establish the scholarship decide whether it is refundable or not.

Myth: Scholarships are just for high-school-aged students.

Fact: While teenagers and young adults are the most common recipients of scholarships, there are plenty of aid opportunities for older or returning students who might have missed out previously. This is especially true at community colleges like Harper. Since our population is adult students, a lot of our donors have created scholarships specifically for the adult population. For example, one criteria could be that the scholarship recipient has to be 24 years and older and can’t be awarded to anyone else.

Myth: You need a high GPA to earn scholarships.

Fact: People often associate scholarships with merit, or the student with a 4.0 GPA who is super involved in extracurricular activities or volunteer work. But with donor-sponsored scholarships, the donors are the ones who create the criteria for the scholarship. So for those donors who weren’t straight-A students themselves, they often look for students they identify with based on their background or field or whatever speaks to them. The criteria ranges from where they live to if they’re single parents or were in specific clubs, and so on. They want to motivate these students to complete their degrees, regardless of their grades.

Myth: You only have to apply once.

Fact: You almost always have to reapply for scholarships every year, even if you already qualify and regardless of whether it’s federal, state, or donor-based aid. Some students apply for freshman year and think it will cover their entire college tenure, but that isn’t the case. Consult the terms of any scholarship you get to make sure you follow the correct procedures so you don’t lose those funds.

Last Updated: 4/18/24