Can You Combine Scholarships and Financial Aid?

With the cost of college today, students and families are always trying to find ways to pay for those ever increasing tuition, room and board expenses. One question we are often asked is whether you can combine scholarships and financial aid to reduce out of pocket costs. While it’s an interesting question, it does not really have a definitive answer of yes or no because whether you can or cannot varies by school. Let’s break it down.

Scholarships vs. Financial Aid

Scholarships are funds that you receive that you don’t need to pay back. They are based on credentials rather than financial need. There are different kinds of scholarships. You can receive scholarships directly from the school, which are called institutional merit aid or merit funding. The college will say, “Hi Joey. Thank you so much for applying to our college. You’ve been accepted and you’re going to be awarded $20,000 a year for four years as long as you maintain a 3.0 GPA.” There are also outside private scholarships. Just to be clear there is not a huge amount of private scholarship money out there for each individual student and it’s a lot of work to apply for those scholarships for not a whole lot of return. But that being said, we never deter families from applying. Those private scholarships come from an outside entity and many times are sent directly to the college that you’re attending and they don’t need to be paid back.

Financial aid is money you receive from a school based on the financial needs of the student and family. Our blog How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect outlines how financial aid awards are determined and how to calculate your estimated Expected Family Contribution. Some of this aid is in the form of grants that do not need to be paid back, and others are in the form of federal loans, which do have to be paid back.

Unfortunately, you cannot always add outside scholarships on top of other merit money or financial aid money. There are some schools that reduce your aid awards by the amount of outside scholarships you have received. For example, if a school has already awarded you $20,000 a year in financial aid and you receive an outside private scholarship for $2000, they will reduce your aid to $18,000. We do not agree with this because the student worked really hard to get these scholarships from the outside, but it happens. Many schools don’t make this reduction, but some do. It can be a lot of effort applying for these outside private scholarships and yet rather than help you they may simply reduce the package already received from school.

Our advice is to call the admissions office of the schools you are interested in attending and ask if they reduce any money that is awarded to you from the school by outside scholarships so that you know upfront whether you will be able to combine scholarships and your financial aid award.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.