Can You Use Scholarship Money for Anything? Tips, Examples, Common Mistakes

The cost of college has soared over 180% in the past forty years. With tuition, room and board, books, and other education-related expenses, it can feel like expenses are never-ending. Thankfully, there are numerous scholarship programs to help you afford higher education.  

If you’ve applied to any of them, you’re probably wondering: Can I use scholarship money for anything? The answer is a bit complicated. But we’re here to help you make sense of it all. It’s worth noting that many awards will be paid directly to your college or university. For the others that come straight to you, check out the tips below to help decipher different scholarship rules.

What you can use scholarship money for 

Most scholarship funds are specific about which types of costs they can and cannot cover. Education expenses like tuition, books, and other course materials are usually covered, but what counts as “education-related” can differ by provider so be sure to review the rules for each award. 


Depending upon your financial aid package, tuition will likely be your greatest expense when it comes to paying for your college education. A majority of scholarships, particularly private scholarships from foundations and government grants, will indicate that scholarship funds must go directly toward tuition. 

Many awards that renew for each academic year are designated to cover this expense. And even if your scholarship doesn’t indicate that it must be put toward tuition, it’s smart for most college students to use this money to help reduce the out-of-pocket cost of tuition

Room and Board

Living expenses vary by college. If your university is in an expensive part of the country, your costs for room and board could be higher. Oftentimes, colleges offer on-campus housing at a subsidized rate. 

While not all scholarship programs cover room and board, many do consider this to be a cost of attendance. However, many scholarships make a distinction between on-campus housing and off-campus housing, with a preference for on-campus living. 


If you’ve ever spent time in an on-campus bookstore, you’ll realize that textbooks and other course materials can be pricey. But having access to the right supplies is crucial to your ability to learn, and many scholarship providers want to help you pay for the tools you need to succeed. 

There are even private scholarships that exist specifically to cover the cost of books. Even more important than paying for those books is putting them to use. Need some tips on how to make studying for that big midterm a breeze? Look no further


Sitting in a lecture hall trying to scribble notes by hand can make getting that stellar GPA that much harder, which is why most college students prefer using laptops. This is an expense that counts as education-related for some providers but not others. It’s a good idea to double-check the fine print on your private scholarships before you use scholarship money to pay for a computer.


When people talk about “tuition and fees” it can be confusing. Fees can encompass a number of different education-related expenses like enrollment fees, library costs, and printing charges. Many colleges and universities will provide a detailed breakdown of fees if you contact your school’s financial aid office. A lot of scholarship programs cover fees and students with financial aid packages can apply for fee waivers too. 


Transportation to and from campus is another cost of attendance that can be a tricky one to decipher. Some awards will cover expenses like bus fare or parking. However, many other scholarship programs consider this to be a personal expense, particularly if your travel is between states or across the country. 

Oftentimes parking or on-campus transportation are covered as a part of a university’s fees. If your scholarship award covers fees, those transportation costs would already be covered.

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What you can’t use scholarship money for 

Financial assistance via private scholarships is oftentimes need-based and competitive, which is why college students should never abuse the free money that comes along with these awards. It’s important to read the fine print on all forms of financial aid and understand what is and is not covered. 

There are a small number of awards that can be used for literally anything. If you think you’ve won one of those scholarships, be sure to check all of the requirements. To be extra certain, reach out to the provider to ask questions before you spend your scholarship money on one of the below types of expenses. 

Recreational trips

If you’re dreaming about spending your scholarship funds on a spring break trip, think again. Scholarship money can never be used for personal travel. This might feel like an obvious example, but personal expenses like travel are never covered by scholarship money, whether it’s a spring break getaway or a trip home to see family. 

A caveat to this: Education-related trips, like studying abroad or pursuing an out-of-town internship, can be covered by specific scholarships. Add those to your scholarship search if you hope to study abroad in the future. 

Car payments

Buying a car to drive to and from campus is an expense that many college students incur. Unfortunately, it’s not one that can be covered by scholarship money. Because your car can be used for so many different things — like travel, recreation, and commuting to work — a car payment is considered a personal expense. 

Personal expenses

Twin XL sheets for your new dorm room bed, a microwave to heat up cups of instant ramen, and a puffy coat to handle that long walk across campus in the cold are all examples of personal expenses that are not covered by most scholarship awards. The additional living expenses of on-campus life, like activity fees, clubs, sporting event attendance, and workout classes also fall under this category. 

Student loans

Many college students wonder if they can spend scholarship money on student loan repayment. It’s a nice idea, but the answer is no. Award money cannot be used to pay back federal or private student loans. It can be tempting to want to put extra money into your bank account to help pay back those loans, but this is one college expense that is a definite no. Depending upon your financial need, you might qualify for student loan forgiveness on some federal student loans. Check out this handy primer on federal financial aid


While investing for the future is a noble goal, spending your scholarship money on investments like stocks and bonds is not allowed. Even if you’re planning to pursue a major in finance or economics, this type of spending is not considered an educational expense. 

Instead of exploring other ways to invest, college students have the opportunity to invest in themselves through their education. So, aim for a stellar GPA and learn as much as you can. Your future self will thank you for the investment. 

What happens if I use my scholarship money on something other than my education?

College scholarships can be a great way to bridge the gap between out-of-pocket money and financial aid awards. However, these funds must be used correctly. 

Failing to use scholarship funds for education-related expenses can result in a scholarship provider revoking your award, or forcing you to pay back what you spent. In extreme circumstances, providers could take legal action. 

Most students don’t have nefarious intentions, which is why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the details of your scholarship award. Luckily, most of the time, scholarship money isn’t deposited directly into your bank account. But when it is, it’s important to double-check the terms of the award before you start spending. 

What happens to unused scholarship money?

Receiving too much scholarship money is a rare but possible scenario. If you’ve received scholarship funds that are greater than your cost of tuition and fees, oftentimes your college or university will send you a refund for the leftover money. 

Depending upon the terms of your scholarship, you can use these funds for another education-related expense. If you have unused scholarship money, consult your school’s financial aid office, as you will need to pay taxes on these funds as income. 

Additionally, if your scholarship dollars outweigh the costs of your tuition, you could reach out to the scholarship committees on each of your awards to discuss your options. Depending upon their regulations, you might be able to use the scholarship funds for other education-related expenses that they don’t usually cover. 

Can scholarship money affect my financial aid

Yes, your scholarship money can affect your financial aid. Most often it doesn’t. But if you’re lucky enough to win a scholarship award, you must report this change to your school’s financial aid office. 

Earning scholarship money will affect how your school views your financial needs and could result in changes to your financial aid package. In particular, if the award you’ve received is renewable, your financial aid could change for all four years.  

But don’t let this deter you from applying for scholarships. Free money is never a bad thing. Oftentimes, the effect on your financial aid will be a reduction of student loans or work-study programs. It should not result in you needing to pay more money for college.  

15 Easy scholarships to apply for right now

Scholarship money can be used to cover a variety of education expenses. For college students looking to supplement their financial aid package, there are so many different types of scholarships available. Some scholarships require many steps to apply, which is why we’ve put together a list of 9 easy scholarships to get you started on the path to earning money for your education. 

None of these scholarship programs require letters of recommendation or essays longer than 1,000 words. If you’re on the hunt for more scholarships just like these, we’ve found 26 more with simple, no-sweat applications.

1. Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship

Amount: $25,000

Provider: Taco Bell

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college or university
  • Between 16 and 26 years old 
  • Not an employee of Taco Bell

Application Requirements: Video essay

One of the most valuable and easiest scholarships on this list, the Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship wants to send you off to college with a $25,000 award. Taco Bell wants to hear about why you believe higher education is important, what you dream about for the future, and how a college degree will help you achieve those goals. Remember, “Live Más” translates to “Live More” in English, so keep that expansive, visionary spirit in mind as you film your video essay. 

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2. Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Amount: Up to $5,000

Provider: Hispanic Scholarship Fund

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for high school students
  • Minimum GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale for college or graduate students
  • Hispanic/Latinx
  • Enrolled or planning to enroll full-time in a college/university

Application Requirements: Transcript, completed FAFSA®

The Hispanic Scholarship Fund exists to make higher education more accessible to Latin American students across the U.S. The fund is open to U.S. citizens as well as students who are legal permanent residents or DACA. The award amount varies based on a student’s financial need. Each year, the fund gives out around 10,000 scholarships to deserving students of Hispanic heritage. 

3. Visionary Scholarship

Amount: Up to $5,000

Provider: American College Foundation

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college/university

Application Requirements: Transcript, essay

The American College Foundation is an online reference tool to help high school students prepare for college. They know that paying for higher education is half the battle, which is why they’ve created the Visionary Scholarship

Through this scholarship program, students can receive up to $5,000 one time during their college career. Applications will be judged based on students’ unofficial high school transcripts and answers to the essay prompt: “Why College is Important to Me” Your essay shouldn’t be longer than 500 words. 

4. Don’t Text and Drive Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Provider: Digital Responsibility

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college/university

Application Requirements: N/A

Digital Responsibility was founded by a group of tech executives to educate young people on how to use technology responsibly. In service of this mission, they created the Don’t Text and Drive Scholarship to advocate for safe driving. 

To apply, all you’ll need to do is write a 140-character statement that finishes this sentence: “I pledge to not text and drive because…” The applicants with the most unique responses will be entered into the second round, where they’ll write a 500-1,000-word essay about the dangers of texting and driving. 

5. RealtyHop Scholarship 

Amount: $1,000

Provider: RealtyHop

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled in a college/university

Application Requirements: Essay

RealtyHop is a platform that matches investors with undervalued real estate properties. They’re looking for students who demonstrate ambition and entrepreneurship through their RealtyHop Scholarship

The application is simple, and some might even say fun. You’ll write a 500-word essay imagining the life of your dreams. Find a listing on RealtyHop and dream about how you’d spend your future living in your favorite room of that property. For some winners, an internship at RealtyHop could even be in your future.

6. Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Provider: Gen and Kelly Tanabe Foundation

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college/university

Application Requirements: Essay

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are bestselling authors who write about education — and they want to help you pursue yours. The Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship is a merit-based award for high school, college, or graduate students. All you’ll need to do is fill out the form on their website and write a 250-word essay about either your future goals or why you deserve to win the scholarship. The funds from this award can be used for any education expense including room and board or fees. 

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7. MyBioSource Inc. Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

Amount: $1,000

Provider: MyBioSource Inc. 

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college/university
  • Documented learning disability

Application Requirements: Essay

MyBioSource Inc, a biotechnological product distribution company, is passionate about empowering students with learning disabilities. Each year they sponsor two non-renewable $1,000 awards for undergraduate or graduate students with a documented learning disability. 

To apply for the MyBioSource Inc. Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, write a 250-word response answering why you’ve chosen your specific major and why you deserve this scholarship award. If answering the question feels tough, check out this blog post that can help you write your best response.

8. CareerFitter Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Provider: CareerFitter

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Minimum GPA of 2.4 on a 4.0 scale
  • Enrolled or planning to enroll full-time in a college or university 

Application Requirements: Transcript, essay

If you’re not so sure what you want to study in college, or what you want to pursue after graduation, CareerFitter could help. They’ve pioneered a career test alongside psychologists to help you identify a meaningful career to fit your aspirations. 

Once you’ve identified your dream job, apply for the CareerFitter Scholarship by writing about why you want to pursue that particular path. Your answer should be no more than 900 characters. Dream big and have some fun thinking about your future.    

9. CarBrain Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Provider: CarBrain

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Enrolled or planning to enroll in a college/university

Application Requirements: Proof of acceptance/enrollment, essay

Do you dream of a future filled with self-driving cars? Or do you prefer to drive an old-fashioned stick shift? CarBrain, a platform for buying and selling automobiles, wants to know what you think is going to happen in the automobile space. With between 500 and 1000 words, answer their essay prompt: “Is self-driving vehicle technology the way of the future? Why or why not?” and you’ll be entered to win the CarBrain Scholarship

Get scholarships delivered to you with Going Merry

Using your scholarship money shouldn’t have to be difficult. Before you put the funds to use, double-check the details for your scholarship award. If you’re confused by any of the language, reach out to your scholarship provider to find clarity. They want to help you achieve educational success, so don’t be afraid to use them as a resource.

If you’re trying to find ways to add to your financial aid package through private scholarships, consider Going Merry. When you sign up and create a profile, we curate scholarships designed to fit your personal background and strengths. Sign up today to spend less time searching for relevant scholarships, and more time applying to the ones you could win.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.

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