If you’re wondering how to win scholarships for college, there’s tons of advice out there. Yes, it can help if you have good grades and a high GPA. And writing a super strong scholarship essay will absolutely help boost your chances of winning significantly. 

But at the core of your scholarship search, there’s one secret that will open up hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship opportunities to you: knowing what makes you unique. In other words, what makes you YOU. 

Here’s why: there are thousands of scholarships out there for everything: being a woman, being tall, being the first in your family to go to college, being a chess player. And much more.

And you, as a unique person and student, have a totally unique combination of qualities that make you eligible for all kinds of scholarships that most students simply don’t qualify for. The trick is identifying these qualities and applying for scholarships that offer monetary rewards for them. 

At Scholly, it’s this focus on what makes you unique that’s allowed us to help students win more than $100 million dollars in scholarships. With the Scholly app, we help you easily identify unique traits about yourself and then match you with amazing scholarships based on them.

But whether you’re using Scholly or researching scholarships the old school way, knowing what makes you stand out could be the difference between winning a few scholarships and winning hundreds of thousands of dollars and not paying a penny for school.

Now in reality, you have a potentially endless number of unique traits, so let’s take a look at the major scholarship parameters that will help you win scholarships. 

We recommend that you start by making a list of all of the qualities about you that you can possibly think of under each of the following categories (we’ll breakdown each in a minute): 

  1. The Basics
  2. Family
  3. Financial
  4. Religion 
  5. Extracurriculars
  6. Location
  7. Academic
  8. Employment
  9. Medical
  10. Military
  11. Volunteer work

Keep in mind that the following lists aren’t exhaustive, but they cover a broad spectrum of parameters out there, and they’ll give you a great idea of how many scholarships you can actually win. 

Oh, and even if you don’t think a particular circumstance or trait is scholarship-worthy, write it down anyway! You may be pleasantly surprised by what kinds of financial awards are out there for you!

How to Win Scholarships 101: Consider These Traits When Searching For Scholarship Opportunities 

#1 The Basics

These are the categories that more broadly define who you are and there are certainly scholarships for all of them. However, since these are more general categories, more people will apply for them, meaning you’ll have more competition. That said, you should certainly search for scholarships based on:

  • Your race (e.g. “scholarships for African American students”)
  • Your gender (e.g. “scholarships for women,” “scholarships for non-binary students,” etc.)
  • The specific schools you’re considering (e.g. “Scholarships for Harvard University”)
  • Whether you’re an undergraduate,graduate, or PHD student

#2 Family Circumstances

Your family is likely your central community so any factors that influence your family members impact you as well. And trust us when we say that there are loads of scholarships out there that relate to family circumstances. Here are some examples of family circumstances for which there are scholarships:

  • Having a single parent
  • Being a child of divorce
  • Being the child of LGTBQ+ parents
  • Being adopted or having an adopted child
  • Having or caring for an elderly, sick, or disabled family member
  • Being the child of an immigrant/being a first generation American
  • Being the child of a public service professional (e.g. your parents work for the government, law enforcement, the fire department, etc.)
  • Being directly affected by the death (including suicide) of a family member
  • Being impacted by a parent or family member’s job move (e.g. moving to a new state or country for their job).
  • Having been homeless and being currently homeless
  • Being the child of a migrant worker
  • Being a foster child

#3 Financial Circumstances 

College is very expensive, so your financial circumstances are a huge factor in your scholarship eligibility. Here are some of the most common financial circumstances that can help you qualify for scholarships:

  • Coming from a low-income household (there may be specific income thresholds for individual scholarships)
  • Paying out-of-state tuition
  • Being a public housing resident
  • Having low or no family contributions 
  • Qualifying for free or reduced lunch
  • Having substantial medical debt
  • Having student loan debt (there may be specific income thresholds for individual scholarship)

#4 Religion

This one may be surprising but there are scholarships for students of just about every religious background. And if you don’t consider yourself religious at all, no worries; identifying as “Agnostic” or “Atheist” can qualify you for a scholarship too! 

One word of advice when searching for religion-centered scholarships: the more specific you can get, the better. If you’re an Episcopalian Christian, for example, make sure to search for scholarships for Episcopalian students, not just Christian students in general. 

You can receive religion-based scholarship money for:

  • Being a follower of any faith (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.)
  • Attending a religiously-affiliated high school
  • Being enrolled, accepted to, or planning to attend a religiously-affiliated college or university 
  • Being a member/volunteer at a faith-based organization (e.g. the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, The Salvation Army, HOPE International)
  • Attending seminary school
  • Being an LGBT UCC Member
  • Being a Unitarian Universalist Member

#5 Extracurricular Activities 

What you do with your free time, outside of the classroom, matters when it comes to scholarships. The term “extracurricular” simply means “beyond your academic curriculum” so don’t’ overlook your hobbies, interests, club memberships, and so on. Yes, even the fun things you enjoy the most can help you win a scholarship! 

Here are some examples of extracurricular activities for which you may find scholarships:


You can certainly find scholarships for playing sports, but the umbrella category of “sports” is much more widely encompassing than that. There are scholarships out there for:

  • Playing of having played pretty much any sports you can think of (basketball, tennis, swim team, bowling leagues, etc.)
  • Participating in athletics with a disability 
  • Continuing your athletic career in college (D1, D2, D3, NAIA, Junior college, etc.)
  • Coaching sports or mentoring young athletes
  • Being an athletic trainer
  • Running a race or marathon 

Other school-based activities:

  • Speech/debate team
  • FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America)
  • Student Council/student government
  • Student newspaper
  • Any other activity or organization you participate in on school grounds!

Artistic endeavors: 

  • Playing an instrument
  • Participating in theatre (acting, directing, set design, costume design, etc.)
  • Dancing and choreographing 
  • Working at a radio station
  • Being a visual artist (painting, sculpting, photography, etc.)
  • Working in film in any capacity 
  • Writing or publishing poems, stories, articles, etc.


  • Chess, board games
  • Gardening
  • Online gaming
  • Programming
  • Fashion
  • Books/literature 
  • Camping/the outdoors

Values/Causes of interest to you:

  • Organ donation
  • Veganism/vegetarianism
  • Politics/political allegiances 
  • Animal rights
  • Civil rights/women’s rights/LGBTQ+ right
  • Environmentalism 


  • Fraternities/sororities
  • Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts/Eagle Scouts/etc.
  • Boys and Girls Club Member
  • ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Club)
  • YMCA member
  • Museum member 

#6 Location and State of College Attendance 

This category isn’t one you’ll necessarily have to make a list for, but nearly every state has its own programs for high schoolers who attend public colleges or universities in their home states. So make sure to search state-specific scholarships.

#7 Academic Circumstances 

Your performance in school will have a significant impact on the scholarships you’re eligible for since, well, college is academic by nature. Here are some academic attributes that can help you stand out to scholarship committees: 

  • A strong GPA (there are scholarships out there for different GPA thresholds. E.g. scholarships for students with 4.0 or higher GPAs)
  • Competitive test scores (ACT, SAT, AP, etc.)
  • Your admission into the National Honors Society (and other similar clubs for academic achievement)
  • Any awards for academic achievement that you’ve won
  • Your high grades in certain subject areas (e.g. there are scholarships for students who earn good grades in STEM classes).

It helps to think of your academic performance as an attribute that can help potentially  complement and strengthen other qualities. For example, if you’re a student-athlete with a high GPA or a first-generation college student with exceptional SAT scores, you’re likely a strong scholarship contender.

#8 Employment

Your job can also help you get scholarships, especially if you’re a graduate student applying to programs related to the job you currently do. For example, are you an ultrasound technician applying for medical school? There may be money out there just for you! 

Here are some job-related circumstances that could help you win scholarship money:

  • You’re an artist who has sold your work 
  • You contribute to your family’s household income
  • You are the head of your household
  • You are the child, dependent, or spouse of someone who works as: a first responder, an active police officer, a migrant worker, a teacher (and countless other professions)
  • You work at a job that supports underserved people and communities 
  • You work at or run a family business 
  • You’re a small business owner or independent contractor 
  • You work at a tech-startup

Here’s the thing: there are scholarships out there for people working in just about any field. So whatever you do to pay the bills (or whatever your parent or spouse may do), it pays (literally!) to look into scholarships related to your employment!

#9 Medical, Mental, and Physical Factors

Your mental and physical health is a huge factor in your ability to succeed in college. If your health has been compromised, challenged, or complicated in any way, there’s very likely a scholarship out there for you.

You may be eligible for scholarship money if you are currently or have been affected by:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • Learning disabilities
  • Birth injuries 
  • ALS 
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Depression, anxiety, and/or trauma 
  • Eating disorders
  • Car accident
  • Addiction 
  • Wheelchair use and/or any issues of accessibility
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Paralysis 
  • Domestic violence 
  • Organ transplant

There are countless mental and physical circumstances that may qualify you for a scholarship so leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding this type of college funding.

#10 Military Affiliation

If you, a parent, or a spouse is involved in the military in any way, there are definitely many scholarship opportunities out there. Here are some of the most common criteria for finding a scholarship for military affiliations:

  • If you, a parent, or a spouse served in the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, or space Space Force
  • If you, a parent, or a spouse is a United States Veteran 
  • If you’re an American Legion Auxiliary member
  • If you’re in the ROTC or JROTC
  • If you’ve lost a loved one on account of military service
  • If you’re a member of the Navy Wives Club (or similar)
  • If you’re a Sea Cadet or Sea Scout

It is true that the military offers educational funding in exchange for service, and if you take advantage of this opportunity, great! We still highly encourage you to seek out scholarships, however, since the cost of college and cost of living while attending isn’t necessarily covered entirely by the military. It can never hurt to find more money for college!

#11 Volunteer Work

There are a multitude of scholarships out there that reward students for giving back to others. If you’ve dedicated time to causes that are important to you, then you should definitely seek out scholarships for volunteer work. 

Some scholarship-eligible volunteer work includes:

  • Being a tutor
  • Volunteering for AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, etc.
  • Working for Teach for America
  • Helping election boards register people to vote or cast ballots on election day
  • Canvassing (unpaid) for politicians
  • Fundraising for non-profit foundations
  • Dedicating hours of community services to local organizations like homeless shelters, churches, food banks, etc.
  • Volunteering with the Boys and Girls Club of America

The “How to Win Scholarships Hack:” Attack From All Angles 

Once you’ve taken a full inventory of the attributes and circumstances that make you unique, search for scholarships related to all of them. When in doubt, it can’t hurt to search. You may be shocked how much money is out there for you when you start really breaking things down. 

Are you a female lacrosse player with a teacher parent and a 4.2 GPA who wants to attend school in Oregon? You’ll want to search for scholarships pertaining to each of those qualities! Are you a queer, Asian-American who participates in theatre and volunteers at a summer camp? Same thing! You get the idea.

Oh, and by the way, you may have noticed that some of these categories overlap a bit. For example, having a parent who serves in the military could be considered a family circumstance, a financial circumstance, or (obviously) a military affiliation. Don’t get too hung up on the type of circumstance or quality you have. We’ve organized these lists to help you get familiar with the WIDE range of scholarship out there and to assist you in diving deep into all of the scholarship-worthy things that make you you!

Want to Find The MOST Scholarships Possible? Use Scholly’s “Categories” Feature to Find The Best Matches for You

It’s no secret that Scholly Search is the boldest, baddest scholarship-matching platform out there! Our always-expanding, hyper-personalized database matches you with scholarships tailored just for you—saving you loads of time and energy in the search process. 

The best part is that Scholly Search includes a “Categories” section that allows you to set all kinds of parameters (like the hundreds listed above) about yourself when searching for scholarships. By creating a specific, vivid picture of yourself, we’re able to provide you with the the most accurate scholarship matches possible, which dramatically increases your chances of winning! 

Happy searching and good luck!