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Scholarships aren’t exactly free money –they require effort to find and actually apply — however, outside of your parent’s checkbook they’re as close as you’ll get.

Scholarship aid can cover anything from tuition, room and board fees, meal plans to study abroad opportunities. It’s important to note that NOT all scholarships are created equally. Some give you full autonomy of your disbursement while other scholarships are distributed with stipulations. Here are some helpful tips to help you better navigate the scholarship terrain.Generally speaking, there are two ways scholarship aid can be disbursed: they’re either paid directly to the student, or directly to the school.

When Scholarship Funds Come Directly to You

Few scholarships are paid in a check directly to the student. You’ll find that scholarships that are paid directly to the student are smaller awards from local groups (ie. student boosters, church groups, or other community organizations). Like receiving a check from your parents, this money can be used for anything school-related. Many trust that the funds will go towards your education while others require receipts ensuring the money was spent towards education although you have the choice of what specifically you purchase. Once that money’s in your account, it’s pretty much up to you how to spend it.

When Scholarship Funds Come Directly to the School

Larger scholarship awards and more established scholarships are generally sent directly to your school’s bursar or financial aid office, where they’ll be applied directly to bills that are owed directly to the school. And with good reason, would you trust an 18 year old with $10, 000?

Assuming the amount of the scholarship is less than whatever it is you owe to the school, you won’t physically see any money—you’ll only see it reflected on your account. If, however, the scholarship money exceeds what you owe to your school you’ll receive some sort of refund, either in the form of a check or a direct deposit to your bank account. Once that happens, it works just like scholarships that are paid directly to the student: the money is yours to do with as you wish.

National Merit Scholarships and National Honors Society Scholarship Programs are two large, well-known scholarship opportunities that would provide payment directly to the school on your behalf.

Spending Your Scholarship Money Wisely

One word of warning: there’s usually nothing stopping you from using any scholarship money that ends up in your bank account for what we’ll call “tangential expenses.” You’re just as free to spend it on pitchers of alcohol down at the local pub as you are on notebooks at the campus store. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with this: stress relief is a crucial part of anyone’s college education.However, you should try to limit it as much as possible—as long as you still have bills to pay, try to resist the urge to blow your scholarship money on beer and video games. While you’re still in school, it’s easy to think that all of your financial aid is the same: student loans, stipends, and scholarships all feel similar when you’re not paying bills for them. But in the long run, a little financial responsibility will go a long way.
Give HOPE. Live HOPE.

Nate Abbott
Guest Blogger

About the Author

Nate Abbott is a writer for the myFootpath team. myFootpath is a free online resource designed to help you find the degree program and career that’s right for you. For more information about starting your education, visit www.myfootpath.com on find us on Twitter at @myfootpath.

This is a special post for The H.O.P.E. Scholarship/myFootpath Blog Swap. See The H.O.P.E. Blog Post at www.myfootpath.com