What Is an Undergraduate Student Scholarship?

The term "undergraduate education" refers to postsecondary schooling received prior to any type of graduate degree like a master's or doctorate. Associate and bachelor's degrees are the most common type of undergraduate degree programs. An undergraduate scholarship is a type of financial aid used to help students afford the cost of pursuing an undergraduate degree.


To receive an undergraduate scholarship, students complete applications that ask for information such as where they live and their previous education, work, extracurricular activity and volunteer experiences. A scholarship committee reviews all of the applications received for an award and then selects one or more winners. Undergraduate scholarship recipients receive a lump of money that is paid directly to colleges and universities to cover the cost of tuition and fees. Unlike a loan, scholarship money does not require repayment after an undergraduate receives her degree and graduates.

Types of Scholarships

Different types of scholarships exist for undergraduate students. Merit-based scholarships use students' previous academic performance, such as grade point averages or college admission test scores, as a basis for selecting scholarship recipients. Need-based scholarships go to students who have a demonstrated financial need based upon their or their parents' income and expenses. Performance or ability scholarships are given on the basis of how well undergraduates do an activity, such as playing a sport or participating in the performing arts. Scholarships are also given based upon students' academic majors and their involvement with certain religions or groups or nonprofit organizations.

Sources of Scholarships

Undergraduate students can receive scholarships from many sources. The federal government sponsors the Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship Program, which provides funding for high school seniors to enter undergraduate programs. State governments usually offer additional scholarships. Colleges and universities receive donations from alumni and other donors to establish scholarships for students. Other sources of undergraduate scholarships include local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, the U.S. military and private corporations.

Application Materials

In addition to completing basic applications, scholarships often require undergraduate students to submit additional materials. Need-based scholarships often involve completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which the federal government uses to determine students' financial need. The form is available online at the U.S. Department of Education website. Scholarship applications often request that students submit letters of recommendation from former teachers or other individuals who can attest to students' worthiness to receive awards. High school and college transcripts may also be requested. Some scholarships also request students' resumes or a written essay on a specific topic.