When you win a scholarship, the funds are typically sent directly to your college to pay for tuition, fees, and other educational expenses. Any leftover scholarship money after tuition is paid goes directly to you and can be used for additional educational costs like books, a laptop, or housing.
Make sure to check with your college’s financial aid office to understand exactly how your scholarships will be applied and if they will affect other aid you receive.
- Scholarship funds are either sent to your college or directly to you, depending on the provider.
- Always notify your school about scholarships you receive so the money is properly applied.
- Leftover amounts after tuition gets refunded to you for other educational costs.
- Unused scholarship money typically can’t be kept – it must go back towards education.
- Scholarships can reduce other financial aid, so consider the full impact.
Getting a scholarship is an amazing accomplishment and can cover a huge portion of your college costs. But once you actually win scholarship money, where does it go and how does it get used? This guide will walk through the full process so you understand exactly what happens to scholarship funds and how to manage leftover amounts.
Where Scholarship Money is Sent
The first big question is – how do you actually get the scholarship money once you’ve won it? There are two main ways:
- Sent to your college: Many scholarships go directly to your college or university. The funds will be deposited into your student account and go towards paying your tuition bill and any fees owed for the semester.
- Sent directly to you: Some scholarships come directly to you in the form of a check you deposit or through direct deposit into your bank account. If this happens, you are responsible for notifying your school about the scholarship funds.
Pro Tip: When you are awarded a scholarship, always clarify with the provider whether the money will go to your school or directly to you. This ensures there are no surprises or delays in getting the funds applied properly.
Notifying Your School About Scholarships
Your college will want to know about any outside scholarships you receive. Here’s why this notification is important:
- The school needs to properly credit external scholarship money to your student account.
- Your financial aid package may be adjusted if the external scholarships impact your demonstrated financial need. The school has to account for all resources you have access to.
- Any scholarship funds left over after tuition is paid get refunded to you by the college – but only if they are aware of the scholarships!
Be proactive and contact your school’s financial aid office about your scholarships as far in advance as possible to ensure the funds get applied correctly.
How Schools Handle Scholarship Funds
Once your school is aware of your scholarship awards, here is a closer look at how the money gets managed:
- The funds are deposited into your student account and applied towards any outstanding tuition, fees, housing, meal plan, or other authorized expenses for the current semester.
- If the scholarship amount exceeds the charges owed for the semester, the leftover amount is refunded to you directly. This typically happens through the school issuing a refund check, direct deposit to your bank account, or credit to a student debit card.
- The scholarship dollars go solely towards your expenses, not anyone else’s. For example, if your roommate had a scholarship, it would only pay their portion of room charges.
- Scholarships usually pay for the current or upcoming semester only. Any unused amounts don’t automatically carry over for future terms.
- Scholarships don’t get split into multiple disbursements unless that was specifically noted by the provider. The full amount is applied when received.
Editor’s Note: If you have questions about the timing, amounts, or any other details related to how your scholarship gets managed by the school – contact the financial aid office. Asking questions upfront prevents any confusion and helps ensure your scholarship goes where it should!
Can Scholarships Affect Your Other Financial Aid?
Yes! Here are two ways receiving outside scholarships impacts the rest of your financial aid package:
- Grants Reduced: Federal and state grants are offered based on your calculated financial need. If you receive outside scholarships, your college may be required to adjust grant aid like the Pell grant.
- Loans Changed: Since scholarships reduce the amount you personally owe for college, some of your student loan amounts could potentially be decreased. This is most likely to happen with federal direct subsidized loans.
The goal is to ensure you aren’t receiving more total aid than your calculated need. Before accepting any outside scholarships, discuss the impact to your aid package with your financial aid office.
Pro Tip: If your scholarship is for a unique cost like studying abroad, you may be able to appeal having your other aid reduced. Make your case that the scholarship shouldn’t affect your total aid.
What Happens to Leftover Scholarship Money?
Let’s say your scholarship award was for $5,000 but tuition was only $3,500 for the semester – what happens to the extra $1,500? Any leftover scholarship funds after tuition and fees are paid get refunded directly to you!
The excess money must go towards covering allowable education expenses. This includes things like:
📱 Technology fees
🗄️ School supplies
🏢 Housing costs
🥬 Meal plan
Be strategic and use excess scholarship funds to cover your most urgent school-related costs. Having scholarship money left over is a great opportunity to stock up on expensive items like required course materials.
Editor’s Note: Save your receipts and records proving you used the scholarship refund for other educational expenses. This provides documentation in case it’s ever needed.
Do You Pay Taxes on Leftover Scholarship Money?
If the excess scholarship funds were used for qualified education expenses, you do not pay taxes on the amount. But if you used leftover scholarship money for non-education costs, the amount withdrawn may be taxable income.
Consult with a tax advisor to determine if tax is owed on any scholarship refunds you received. You want to avoid expensive penalties or fees!
Can I Keep Unused Scholarship Funds?
Unfortunately, no. Scholarship funds need to be used in the timeframe and for the purpose stated by the provider. Remaining amounts cannot be kept by you after all your current educational expenses are covered.
Here are two options if you have scholarship money left over that you can’t use:
- Contact the scholarship provider to request returning unused funds or reallocating them for a future semester.
- Have the excess amount refunded back to your college’s scholarship foundation or fund. This pays the amount forward.
The goal is ensuring the scholarship money goes towards education like intended. With strategic planning, you can minimize the chances of having large unused amounts.
Pro Tip: Avoid the stress of leftover scholarship funds by carefully tracking your outstanding expenses each semester and applying scholarships accordingly.