What is a scholarship? Definition and examples

A scholarship is a type of financial support that helps people so that they can study at school or college. The support is, in most cases, based on academic achievement. However, in a few cases, the criteria may be different. If a person does not have the money to pay for a course, for example, they may be eligible for a scholarship. However, even in such cases, a level of academic achievement is usually necessary. Most schools and colleges use another word if the only criterion is financial need.

Whoever is funding the scholarship sets the criteria for determining whom to select. The person or entity providing the money is the ‘grantor.’ The grantor must define how the funding occurs; in other words, who gets what and when.

The scholarship funds cover all or part of the cost of tuition, accommodation, books, meals, and other study costs.

The University of South Alabama says the following regarding scholarships:

“Scholarships are typically awarded using a variety of factors, including – but not limited to, academic achievement, departmental and community involvement, employment experience, areas of study, and financial need.”

One school’s or college’s interpretation of the term may vary slightly from another’s.

The term can also mean a serious, detailed study, as in: “That was a work of great scholarship.” This article focuses on the word when it means money that a grantor gives so that somebody can study.

Scholarship definition
There are many different types of scholarships. They may be merit-based, need-based, student-specific, college-specific, or college specific.

Scholarship vs. bursary

Although both scholarships and bursaries refer to financial support to study, their meanings are not the same.


A bursary is a means of non-repayable financial help designed to help students who meet certain financial eligibility criteria.

A bursary is the same as a grant. You don’t have to pass a difficult academic exam to receive a bursary.


In the vast majority of cases, students get scholarships for academic achievement. Even when they are awarded because of a financial need, the applicant still has to reach an academic level (in most cases).

The University of Birmingham in England writes:

“A scholarship is a means of non-repayable support, usually financial, that is awarded based on the individual assessment of predetermined criteria – a scholarship will focus on recognizing and rewarding your academic achievement(s).”

Scholarship vs. sponsorship

Sponsorship is also money that, for example, a company provides to fund an athlete, student, or study (research). However, in the case of sponsorship, the sponsor, especially if it is a company, typically expects something in return.

When a company is the sponsor, it may be brand building. Many businesses sponsor sports events to maximize the reach of their goods or services and gain publicity.

The word ‘sponsor’ can be a verb – to sponsor – or a noun – a sponsor.

Sponsorship is a powerful marketing tool. When grantors give money for scholarships, they don’t expect anything in return.

Sometimes, for marketing reasons, companies use the word scholarship when really it is a brand promotion strategy. The Miss America beauty pageant, for example, has what it calls a ‘brand scholarship.’