College may be an important investment in your future, but learning how to pay for college isn't so easy. Student loans can help, and grants may be available to some (but not all) students, so what's a student to do? In a word: Scholarships.
Scholarships are typically free funds that can be used to cover a wide variety of college expenses. Some are need-based, but others are merit-based, meaning students may qualify for scholarships even if they do not qualify for grants or other forms of aid. Scholarships specifically for college students attending online schools are available, but they are relatively few and far between. Your best bet is to cast your net wide by applying for scholarships that do not exclude those attending online colleges. See our ultimate guide on how to get scholarships for college for more information.
10 High-Paying Scholarships for College Students (Online or Otherwise)
The following programs are designed to help high school and college students who wish to attend all types of postsecondary institutions -- including online colleges. Deadlines, requirements and even awards can change over time, so be sure to verify these details independently before applying.
1. The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS)
According to its official website, the Intel Science Talent Search program is the "nation's oldest and most prestigious" pre-college science competition. With a top prize of $100,000, it is also one of the highest-paying scholarships for future college students, including those who intend to study online.
Requirements: The competition is open to any U.S. high school student age 18 and under who has performed important, original research in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Projects are judged by a panel of notable scientists and government leaders.
Award: $100,000 maximum; various additional awards for qualifying finalists, from $7,500 to $75,000. Finalists may also have the opportunity to meet with the president or vice president of the United States and to display science project research at the National Geographic Society.
2. Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology
FinAid.org calls the Siemens Westinghouse Competition one of the most "prestigious research competitions for high school students in the United States." As with the Intel STS program, the Siemens Westinghouse Competition offers high-paying scholarships to future college students who have conducted important research in the field of STEM. Winners can apply their winnings toward educational expenses at whatever college they choose to attend, including online schools.
Requirements: Any U.S. high school student is eligible to apply and submit research. All high school students can apply for team awards, but only high school seniors can submit individual projects.
Award: Top individual and team national winners receive a $100,000 scholarship, but even finalists are eligible for awards of up to $50,000.
3. Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Competition
The Elks National Foundation "Most Valuable Student Competition" awards 500 high school seniors with four-year scholarships annually -- and with a top prize of $50,000, it ranks among one of the highest-paying college scholarship programs around. Winners are selected on the basis of scholarship, leadership and financial need. Funds are awarded via certificate upon full-time enrollment in an accredited college or university.
Requirements: This program is open to all high school seniors who are U.S. citizens. They need not be related to an Elks Lodge member.
Award: First-place winners receive a $50,000 scholarship; other finalists are eligible for awards ranging from $4,000 to $40,000.
4. The Davidson Fellows Scholarship
According to Forbes, the Davidson Fellows Scholarship is reserved for only the most exceptional applicants -- namely those age 18 and under who have created a notable piece of work in the fields of STEM, literature, music or philosophy. There is also another, more general "Outside the Box" category. The program website notes that as of 2014, the fund has awarded nearly $5.3 million in scholarship funds to more than 220 "brilliant young people."
Requirements: All applicants must be age 18 or under by October 1 of the award year (there is no age minimum); additional requirements vary by category. U.S. citizens, permanent U.S. residents and citizens stationed overseas on an active U.S. military installation are eligible to apply. Winners must be willing to attend an award reception in Washington D.C., though the foundation will cover all travel and lodging expenses. Funds can be applied to a diversity of college expenses.
Award: $50,000 maximum; other scholarship awards of $25,000 and $10,000 may be available.
5. AXA Achievement Scholarship
Every year the AXA Achievement Scholarship, in association with U.S. News & World Report, awards more than $650,000 in scholarships to what it calls "exceptional young people." Winners must prove that they are ambitious and determined to reach their goals. And they have to show that they are respectful of their families, their communities and themselves. Most of all, they must show that they have what it takes to succeed in college.
Requirements: All high school seniors who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply. They must plan to enroll in a full-time, accredited college or university. Special consideration will be given to students who empower others to "better face risk through education and action" with respect to finances, the environment, health, or emergency-preparedness.
Award: $25,000 maximum award to one national winner; $10,000 to each remaining finalist -- one from each state.
6. Commitment to Social Change Scholarship (Walden University)
The Commitment to Social Change program is a good example of a school-specific, but high-paying scholarship. It is open to all master's and doctoral-level Walden University students who "demonstrate the capacity to effect positive social change." They must also show they have the chops to succeed in research. Walden University, like many other institutions, offers a number of internal scholarships, and since it also offers several online certificate and degree programs, these programs can be especially helpful for online students who fall outside of the "traditional" student box targeted by many other scholarship funds.
Requirements: Open to all new master's and doctoral Walden University students.
Award: Two $25,000 scholarships awarded each year for new doctoral students; additional scholarships of $5,000 and $2,500 are available for new doctoral and master's students.
7. Coca-Cola Scholars Program
Coca-Cola's Scholars Program awards thousands of dollars in scholarships each year to what it calls "well-rounded, bright students" who excel in and are active within their schools. They are natural leaders dedicated to community service. Coca-Cola clarifies that scholarships can be applied not just to tuition, but also to other educational expenses, like housing, books and even a new computer. Students must attend an accredited college.
Requirements: Applicants must be high school (or home-schooled) seniors with a minimum 3.0 unweighted grade point average. You must provide your grades, employment history, and a list of the community- and school-related activities in which you have participated. You need not submit an essay, letters of recommendation or any other documentation.
Award: $20,000 for 50 National Scholars; $10,000 to an additional 200 Regional Scholars.
8. Collegiate Inventors Competition
The Collegiate Inventors Competition is a joint-venture between the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Invent Now. It is also a good example of a high-paying scholarship fund designed for current college students, regardless of age and discipline. According to its website, the Collegiate Inventors Competition seeks to reward amazing innovation, discoveries and research conducted by college students and their supporting faculty members. Though STEM projects are among the most popular submissions, the CIC explicitly says it welcomes creative invention from any course of study. Unlike most other scholarship programs, winnings are unrestricted, meaning winners are not required to use them on educational expenses.
Requirements: All U.S. college students are welcome to apply. Individual applicants must have been enrolled as full-time students for at least part of the prior year. Students must submit an application, an essay describing their invention, information on their faculty adviser, letters of recommendation, and any other relevant supporting documentation (such as charts, DVDs, slides and samples).
Award: $15,000 for graduate students; $12,500 for undergraduates.
9. The Gates Millennium Scholars Fund
The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program awards 1,000 good-through-graduation scholarships that can be used at any accredited college or university. Note that scholarships are reserved for minority and traditionally underserved students. According to a 2013 report from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, online schools have a tradition of making college more accessible to both minority and first-generation college students, so the fact that GMS scholarships can be applied to online degree and certificate programs matters. Undergraduate students can renew their award annually so long as they perform well academically, and are not restricted to certain majors or disciplines. Graduate students must major in one of the following disciplines: computer science, education, public health, library science, engineering, mathematics or science.
Requirements: GMS scholarships are open to all high school and college students, including undergraduate and graduate students, as long as the applicants are African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American or Hispanic American. They must have an unweighted high school grade point average of at least 3.3. Winners must enroll as full-time, degree-seeking, first-year students at any accredited U.S. college or university beginning the first fall after winning. They must also be U.S. citizens or other national/legal, permanent residents.
Award: Various, but they range in the thousands. Awards are adjusted to reflect financial need, projected education and living costs, and overall availability.
10. Scholarships 4 Development Distance Learning Scholarship Program
The Scholarship 4 Development Distance Learning Scholarships program is not a scholarship fund, but rather a collection of various scholarships reserved specifically for online students from developing nations. For many of these students, online schools make higher education accessible, even in more remote regions. Scholarships vary, and tend to be reserved for students living in only specific nations. Examples of those offered in 2014: The Canon Collins Distance Learning MBA Scholarships for Africans; The HP Women's Scholarship Fund at University of the People; Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarships for Developing Commonwealth Countries; and the Edinburgh Global Online Distance Learning Scholarships.
Requirements: Requirements vary from one program to the next. The Scholars 4 Development website outlines basic requirements, but follow their links for more detailed information.
Awards: Varied, but range from small cash amounts to full tuition-free degree programs.
Dig Deeper: Find More Scholarships, Aid for Online Students
The programs listed above may rank among some of the best-known or highest-paying scholarships for college students -- including online students -- but they represent just a tiny sliver of the whole financial aid pie. Chances are you are eligible for hundreds, if not thousands of additional scholarships. The trick is knowing how to find them. Here are a few ideas:
- Contact your now-or-future-school's financial aid office. Many online colleges have internal scholarships you may not even know exist. Advisers can also point you toward outside sources of scholarships.
- Search for scholarships designed for online students through channels such as the Get Educated Online College Scholarship Program. These smaller programs may not always have high-paying scholarships, but because they are targeted specifically to online students, there may be less competition for them than for the high-dollar awards.
- Explore well-known online scholarship databases, such as FastWeb, The College Board, Scholarships.com, and ScholarshipExperts.com.
- Contact professional organizations in your chosen field of study to find discipline-specific scholarships. Think: The American Psychological Association or the Health Resources and Services Administration.
- Find scholarship funds designed for nontraditional students, like minority students, seniors or single parents.
- Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. Many of the scholarships listed above require applicants to submit a copy of their FAFSA applications along with other supporting documents.
1. "10 High Dollar Award Scholarships for College," Forbes, March 1, 2012, Nancy Anderson, http://www.forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2012/03/01/10-high-dollar-award-scholarships-for-college/
2. AXA Achievement Scholarship, https://us.axa.com/axa-foundation/AXA-achievement-scholarship.html
3. Coca-Cola Scholars Program, http://www.coca-colascholarsfoundation.org/
4. Collegiate Inventors Competition, http://collegiateinventors.org/
5. Commitment to Social Change Scholarship (Walden University), http://www.waldenu.edu/financial-aid/types/scholarships/social-change
6. The Davidson Fellows Scholarship, http://www.davidsongifted.org/fellows/
7. "Diverse Conversations: Online Universities and Underserved Student Populations," Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, April 30, 2013, Matthew Lynch, http://diverseeducation.com/article/53010/
8. Education Support Award Applications, Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation, http://www.patsyminkfoundation.org/edsupport.html
9. Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Competition, http://www.elks.org/enf/scholars/mvs.cfm
10. Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, https://fafsa.ed.gov/
11. The Gates Millennium Scholars Fund, http://www.gmsp.org/default.aspx
12. The Intel Science Talent Search, http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/education/competitions/science-talent-search.html
13. Loans & Scholarships, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.hrsa.gov/loanscholarships/index.html
14. "Prestigious Scholarships and Fellowships," FinAid, http://www.finaid.org/scholarships/prestigious.phtml
15. "The Ripple Effects of Rising Student Debt," The New York Times, May 24, 2014, Phyllis Korkki, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/25/business/the-ripple-effects-of-rising-student-debt.html
16. Scholarships, FastWeb, http://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships
17. Scholarship Search, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/scholarship-search
18. Scholarship Search, Scholarships.com, https://www.scholarships.com/scholarship-search.aspx
19. Scholarship Search, ScholarshipExperts.com, https://www.scholarshipexperts.com/scholarship-search
20. Scholarships, Grants, and Awards, American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org/about/awards/
21. Scholarships 4 Development Distance Learning Scholarship Program, http://www.scholars4dev.com/tag/distance-learning-scholarships/
22. Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology