You’ve won a bunch of scholarships, now what? How do colleges disburse your aid, and if you have more than you need, where does it go? Below we hope to answer all this and more!

Each college has a Cost of Attendance (COA), this is all of your mandatory fee’s like tuition, books, course fees, etc.; and your non-mandatory fees like housing and food. Essentially your full, yearly cost of college.

The COA is your upper bound of aid, meaning that the school you attend cannot award you more than your COA, no matter how many scholarships you win.

So, if you win $30k and your school cost $25k, then $25k is applied to the account, and the rest is typically sent back to the scholarship organization. If you’re in this case make sure to talk to your financial aid officer, they may be able to swing it so that your aid is split over the years/semesters so you can utilize as much of the money as possible.

Now that you’ve won money for the year, what happens to any left over?

Say your mandatory fees are $18k and your non-mandatory fees are $9k and you’ve won all $27k, how does it break down? If the money is being sent to the University directly, then it will be applied to your mandatory fees first. The school will pay itself the $18k and then the difference will be sent to you as a refund. This is for you to use how you see fit, though most scholarships expect you’re using it on things like housing, transportation, books, and things of that nature. Some scholarships can only be applied to mandatory fees like tuition, so watch out for this when you’re tallying your total.

Now, if the scholarship money is sent directly to you, then you can, in theory, be awarded more than your COA. This is a very rare occurrence but can happen.

There are some ways to artificially increase your COA and let some of your excess scholarships in. Some financial aid officers will allow you to include things like a computer expense to your COA statement. While most times this is covered by a school-sponsored loan, if you have extra scholarships, you may be allowed to let them fill this spot. Depending on the University, you can only do this once or twice, but it’s an excellent way to use that excess scholarship to get something useful.

I went through this when I went to UW a few years ago. I won enough scholarships for a full ride and each quarter after tuition/fees were paid, UW cut me a check for ~$3k. I saved a bunch, used it for housing and food, and what not. I ultimately had to reject a few scholarships because I couldn’t use them and had the latter years paid for.

Before you reject any award, make sure you’ve talked to your financial aid officers and have tried every possible way to use your aid. The last place you want to be is in need after turning down potential money.


Where does this leave us?

It all depends. Do you have excess relative to your mandatory fees? Then you get a refund. Do you have excess relative to your COA? Then you go to the aid office and try to increase your COA, or split it over additional years/semesters. If that’s maxed out, congrats, enjoy! :D

There is a caveat here; if you have excess and not all of your aid is comprised of outside scholarships.

If you have a combination of work study, grants, loans, university scholarships, and outside scholarships, then things change. As you get new scholarships, the University will begin to replace the aid you already have. They’ll do this in order of loans > work study > grants > university scholarships.

So if you have $1,500 in loans and win a $1,500 scholarship, they’ll tend to reduce your loan amount by $1,500.

While it feels like there is no change to your net aid, you do have the benefit of fewer loans. The intention here is to reduce your reliance on aid that they can distribute to other students. With an understanding of what happens to leftover aid, we can maximize our pursuit to win as many scholarships as possible! And that's where Scholarship Junkies comes in!

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