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What Is a Third-Party College Scholarship?

Mar 3, 2021

How much does college cost?

Real talk: College has never been more expensive than it is now. 

According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2019–2020 school year was $38,330 for a public college and $48,870 for a private university. 

If these numbers send you into sticker shock, you’re not alone. More than 75% of Gen Zers and millennials say they’re stressed about paying for college tuition. But don’t let that deter you. Earning a college degree might be one of the most expensive investments you ever make, but it’s also the most important. 

The U.S. Department of Education reports that college grads with a undergraduate college degree typically earn 66% more than those with only a high school diploma and are also far less likely to face unemployment. At a time when some jobs can be done from anywhere in the world, today’s competition is fierce. Having the right skills and education is more important than ever in determining your future job opportunities and success.

For many, the high cost of college often necessitates federal financial aid (often in the form of student loans). You can apply for federal student aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, aka the FAFSA. Online universities, such as WGU, are approved for federal student aid. And with WGU's already-low tuition prices, this financial help can make our undergraduate tuition even more affordable.

But what if federal student loans aren’t enough to pay for your college degree? 

Enter: the third-party college scholarship. 

What is a third party scholarship?

Also known as “outside scholarships,” third-party college scholarships can help fill the financial gap if some or all of your academic tuition isn’t covered by federal aid. Unlike student loans, they’re a form of financial aid that doesn’t require repayment. 

Many people think third-party scholarships come from only the government or colleges themselves, but there are many other outside scholarships that offer aid such as community centers, churches, and local organizations.

They’re also different from other types of grants or scholarships (like athletic or academic scholarships) in that they’re usually awarded based on your demographic or interests, and most require a written essay. 

How can I find a third-party scholarship?

The good news is, there are many avenues to explore third-party undergraduate and graduate scholarship opportunities—like your employer, local foundations, or community organizations.

Here are a few tips to help you on your search: 

  • Think locally. Almost every state has an academic scholarship program for residents. There’s a good chance that businesses and organizations in your community are awarding undergraduate and graduate scholarships. 

  • Look online. Websites like, Fastweb, and CollegeNET let you tailor your search by interest or location and give updated information about what awards are available. 

  • Ask your employer. Some businesses offer tuition benefits for their employees, as well as employees’ children or extended family. 

  • Check with your place of worship. Many churches or religious organizations offer scholarships for members.

  • Utilize an undergraduate or graduate scholarship search tool. Current WGU students can find scholarship opportunities through Scholarship Universe, which can be accessed through the Student Portal.

Things to be careful of.

First, outside undergraduate or graduate scholarships could affect if you are eligible for federal, state, or college aid and might reduce the amount of financial aid you qualify for. It’s always a good idea to check with your college or university when you enroll to understand their policies for college students. 

Next, beware of scholarship scams. As the old saying goes: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Below are some common warning signs of a scholarship scam:

  • Eligibility. Legitimate scholarships will have some sort of requirement for you to be eligible, like good grades, age, or financial need.

  • Guarantees. Nobody representing a legitimate scholarship can guarantee that you’ll be awarded. 

  • Unsolicited scholarship offers. If someone reaches out to you offering a scholarship and you never requested information, be careful. Scholarships are awarded to you via an application process, not given out randomly. 

  • Fees. Applying for a scholarship should never cost you money, no matter how small the amount. 

  • Limited-time offers. Legitimate providers never pressure students into applying for their scholarships.

  • Requesting personal info. A scholarship provider should never ask for private information such as your social security or bank account number. 

Lastly, pay close attention to the requirements related to your scholarship and confirm that it applies to the type of education you’re pursuing. Some scholarships have strict qualifications, like a perfect GPA. Also, be aware of things like deadlines, essay requirements, and if your scholarship applies to online classes. 

The benefits of third-party scholarships.

  • Fewer people apply to third-party scholarships, meaning you have less competition and a better chance of being awarded money.

  • Many outside scholarships are need-based, so depending on your financial circumstances, you could be more likely to receive an award.

  • Unlike student loans, scholarships don’t have to be repaid, which could save you big bucks in the long run. 

  • Outside scholarships are usually paid directly to you, rather than the school itself, which makes it possible to use them for a wider range of costs.

How common are third-party scholarships?

According to the most recent "How America Pays for College" report from the lender Sallie Mae Bank, 25% of college students received some amount of scholarship or grant money in 2019–2020. In many cases, third-party scholarships have fewer requirements and are less competitive, making them easier to get compared to other forms of financial aid.

Alternative financial aid resources.

Every little bit helps when it comes to funding your college tuition. Here are a few more financial aid resources to look into: 

  • Campus employment. Some FAFSA-awarded work study packages give students a specified amount of money if they work on campus once they get to school. 

  • The federal government. Besides aid from the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government offers a number of financial aid programs.

  • Aid for military families. There are special aid programs for serving in the military or if you’re the spouse or child of a veteran. 

  • Work-study jobs. The Federal Work-Study Program allows you to earn money to pay for school by working part-time.

Though scholarships make tuition more affordable, so does choosing the right school. WGU charges its low, flat-rate tuition once per six-month term and covers all the courses you complete in that time. We also offer multiple scholarship opportunities and the flexibility of completing your education online. Take a look and see if a degree from WGU is the right move for you.

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