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  • Jean O'Toole

Big vs Small Money Scholarships

Private scholarship awards from companies, organizations, individuals and foundations

can range from $500 to over $200,000. With college costs continuing to rise, the total

educational expense to a student can be in the high 5 figures and even into the 6

figures. This is especially true for students planning on an education future that will

include multiple degrees for their profession. With costs so high, many families that I

speak with ask if applying to small award scholarships are “even worth it”.

There are pros and cons to applying to scholarships with small awards as well as with

those with large awards.

Small Money Scholarships

PRO: With awards in the 3 and 4 figure range, the quantity of small money private

scholarships is extremely high.

CON: The same amount of time spent on a small money award could also be spent on

a large money award application. This makes the financial return on the time investment

dramatically different.

PRO: Fewer students apply for smaller award scholarships, so the statistical chance of

being the recipient increases greatly. Many scholarships that are $1000 or less have

dramatically fewer competing applicants. Stacking smaller scholarship awards can build

a significant overall pile of award money.

CON: Many local scholarships will be smaller money awards. Finding out about local

scholarships can be more difficult as there is usually limited promotion, outreach and

marketing about the opportunity to the general public.

Examples of Small Money Scholarships:

Nitro Scholarship. This scholarship is open to high school seniors, parents of high

school seniors, current college students and students or parents of students who have

graduated from an accredited undergraduate school who is currently paying back

student or parent loans. Award is $2000. Deadline is May 31st. For more information

One Move Ahead Chess Scholarship. This scholarship is open to students of all

education levels, who play chess. Award is $1000. Deadline is March 29th. For more

Brower Youth Award for Environmental Leadership. This scholarship is from the

Earth Island Institute. Students ages 13-22 who have been youth environmental change

leaders are encouraged to apply. Students from the US, Mexico, Canada and

Caribbean countries are eligible to apply. Awards of up to $3000 plus a trip to California.

Deadline is May 14th.  For more information visit

Large Money Scholarships

PRO: With awards in the 5 and 6 figure range, recipients of these awards can

dramatically cut or even completely eliminate educational costs with receiving just 1


CON: Large money scholarships are highly advertised, promoted and used by

companies, organizations and foundations as effective publicity tools to demonstrate

social responsibility and community impact. Publicity increases the number of applicants who will compete for the award.

PRO and CON: Substantial scholarships are usually offered nationally or

internationally. While this is great news for individuals seeking opportunities to apply for, it increases the number of potential competing applicants.

Examples of large money scholarships:

Cameron Impact Scholarship. This scholarship from the Bryan Cameron Education

Foundation is a merit-based scholarship and not a need-based scholarship. Open to

high school seniors, the foundation seeks to honor students with a GPA of 3.7 or above,

who plan to have a significant impact on the world. Awards of $20,000 to $50,000 per

year are given. Early deadline is May 21st. Final deadline is September 10th. For more

Evans Scholars Foundation. This scholarship is from Western Golf Association. It is

for high school seniors who have caddied for at least 2 years and have limited financial

means. It covers full tuition and housing with award amounts up to $120,000. Students

must have a 3.3 minimum GPA. Deadline is October 30th. For more information visit

QuestBridge National College Match. This scholarship is for low-income high school

seniors who have excelled academically, but feel that the nation’s best colleges are

financially out of reach. Awards are up to $200,000+. Deadline is September 29th. For

A scholarship pursuit should therefore include both small and large money award

opportunities. Plan in advance to have applications ready and complete for the large

money opportunities and use the quantity of the small money awards to maintain

momentum and structure to your weekly scholarship pursuit routine.


Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying her scholarship strategies. In 2008 she co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. For more information about Jean, visit


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