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Did you know that college scholarships are the second-largest single source used to pay for school, surpassed only by parent income? Scholarships pay $4,393 or 17 percent of college costs. In the 2017-18 school year, about three in five college students (57%) received one or more scholarships.

According to How America Pays for College 2018, about seven in 10 families applied for scholarships last year. The vast majority of those families reported using some scholarship amount to help pay for college. In fact, 85 percent of those who applied used scholarship funds. Of the 15 percent who didn’t use scholarships, it’s likely because they didn’t qualify for them, though it’s possible some families were awarded a scholarship but didn’t need or want the award.

Interestingly, it seems there might be a communication gap between students and parents when it comes to the use of scholarships:

Colleges are the largest contributor of scholarships

Families report receiving scholarships from community groups and companies at a similar rate as receiving them from state government programs. Thirty-eight percent of recipients received scholarships from a community, nonprofit organization, or company, and 33 percent say they received one from the state or local government. Both of these sources handed out similarly sized awards as well. Surprisingly, one in 10 scholarship recipients say they are not sure where their scholarship came from.

There are many types of scholarships. While community groups, businesses, and local governments are important sources of scholarship funds, the largest contributor—both in terms of the number awarded and the amounts—are colleges and universities. Seven in 10 students who received scholarships said they received one from the school, and the average size of these scholarships, $6,255, is nearly six times the amount awarded by communities or state governments.

Scholarships close the affordability gap at private schools

Students who attended a four-year, private school in the 2017-18 school year were significantly more likely to have sought and obtained scholarships to help pay for their education than those who attended a two- or four-year public school (84%, compared to 48% and 68%, respectively).

Scholarships play a large role in making private schools more affordable, generating a net price for the family well below the “sticker price.” Students attending four-year, private schools report their college education costing $14,779 more than those attending four-year public schools. However, on average, those who attend a four-year, private school say they received $10,143 in scholarship funding in 2017-18, more than three times the amount received by students at four-year, public schools, $3,248. These scholarships, in effect, cut the price difference between the two school types nearly in half to $7,884.

Scholarship activity by school type

Fewer students at public universities get scholarships from their school

Three in five students attending a private, four-year university were awarded a scholarship by the school (60%). Comparatively, fewer than four in 10 students attending a public, four-year university said the same (36%).

Make scholarships part of your family’s college to-do list

Overall, the vast majority of students who apply for scholarships receive something, and, depending on the school, scholarships can significantly reduce the price tag. It would seem the effort of applying for scholarships pays off.

There are college scholarships for nearly any hobby, skill, and interest. Plus, scholarships aren’t just for high school seniors. Students should make time for scholarship applications early and often—and throughout their years at college.

Find out more about How America Pays for College 2018.

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Families and the FAFSA—filing, finances, and fears
The paying-for-college combo families rely on
Using student loans to pay for college
First-in-family college students pay for college differently



About this study

How America Pays for College 2018, a national study by Sallie Mae and Ipsos, explores how much families of undergraduates spend on college, how they pay for it, and how they reach their funding decisions.

Source: How America Pays for College 2018, from Sallie Mae and Ipsos.