What can you use scholarship money for?

Learn what you can and can't do with scholarship money

According to “How America Pays for College 2023,” 29% of all college costs are covered by scholarships. If you’ve won one, great job getting money for school you don’t have to pay back! You may be wondering what you can do with that money. Here’s what you should know.

It’s all about your education 

College scholarships are meant for…well, the basic costs you’ll have when you go to school. Generally, these include expenses that the college classifies as “cost of attendance,” including:

  • Tuition: This means how much it costs to take classes at your school.
  • Fees: These can include extra lab costs for courses you’re taking and extra-curricular fees.
  • Room and board: Scholarship money generally covers on-campus housing and meal plans throughout the year.
  • Textbooks: According to College Board®,  books and supplies at a four-year college averaged $1,240 in 2022. Some scholarships (from publishers) are specifically given out to cover book costs.  
  • Laptop/other required technology: These are generally considered part of the cost of attendance by colleges (since you need them to do your work) and can often be covered by scholarships.

If you have questions about whether an expense is eligible for scholarship use, go back to the original scholarship details and make sure it doesn’t have to be used for a specific purpose (tuition only, or books only).  If you can’t figure it out, check with your school’s financial aid office, or call the organization directly.

Who gets the scholarship money?

The organizations that award scholarships will usually send the money directly to your school, so you don’t have to worry about which college expenses are eligible. Some organizations may send the money to you, so it’s up to you to make sure you’re using it for the right purposes. 

If money is left over, can you keep it?

Chances are there won’t be unused scholarship money after the school takes what it needs for cost of attendance expenses. If there is some left over, your school might send the unused money in a refund check. If they do, you can’t turn it into personal cash. Scholarships are awarded for specific educational expenses, so you can’t use leftover funds for other things, like vacations or clothes, unless the scholarship guidelines allow it. 

What happens if you spend the money on something else or don’t use the scholarship?

If you use your refund scholarship money for personal items (against the official guidelines) you may have to repay it all (plus interest) to the awarding organization. Plus, you may have to pay taxes on it, since it could be considered income. Check with your financial aid office; they may recommend sending the money back to the scholarship’s organization so it can be used to help other students.

Can you use it to pay off student loans?

You have to check the guidelines for your specific scholarship. Most are given to pay for current education expenses, not to repay student loans. However, there are some scholarships specifically awarded to help you pay loans, so you can check those opportunities out.

How can you find college scholarships?

An easy way to find scholarships is to use a free online database. Searching for scholarships is fast and free with Scholarship Search by Sallie! Best part? You don’t have to register—and you can use filters to narrow down your search based on your background, major, the state you live in, and more.

If there’s a gap, consider a private student loan

If you’ve searched for scholarships, maxed out your available federal financial aid, and still need money for college, a private student loan can help cover your remaining expenses for the year. 

Make the most of your scholarship

Scholarships are a great way to get free money to fund your college tuition. Plus, you don’t have to pay them back after school. Just be sure to use them for eligible school expenses so you can get the full use of them. 

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

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