What Is A Last-Dollar Scholarship?

A last dollar scholarship is a form of need-based financial aid. It’s designed to bridge the funding gap between the total cost of college and the financial aid you’ve received. If you’ve exhausted all available sources of funding but still need additional funds to cover your college costs, you may be able to get a last-dollar scholarship.

Last-dollar scholarships are intended to be offered to students who demonstrate financial need. The goal is to make higher education more accessible to all by ensuring that students in need receive enough financial support to cover their entire tuition and fees.

These scholarships may be offered by educational institutions, private organizations, or government agencies. The specific eligibility criteria, application processes, and scholarship amounts may vary.

Are You Eligible For A Last Dollar Scholarship?

Although the specific criteria for getting a last dollar scholarship varies from one opportunity to another, there are a few requirements that all applicants are required to meet.

The main requirement is you must be eligible to receive funds through the Federal Pell Grant program. The Pell Grant is a form of free federal financial aid that the U.S. Department of Education offers to students who demonstrate financial need.

That means you need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to receive any form of federal financial aid including the Pell Grant. The federal government uses the information you provide on the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for the Pell Grant. If you’re eligible for this grant, you may also qualify for a last dollar scholarship.

In addition, you’ll also need to meet the specified family income threshold as outlined by your college or university.

Besides financial criteria, there are also a few academic requirements. Most last dollar scholarships are only available to students who are enrolled full time in a two-year or four-year program at an accredited, nonprofit college or university in the United States.

Students may be new high school graduates or adult learners returning to pursue higher education after a gap.

The Last Dollar Scholarship Process

So let’s walk through the process of applying and receiving a last-dollar scholarship.

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Step 1: File FAFSA

The first step in the process is to complete the FAFSA, which helps to determine financial need. Without this application, schools cannot assess your financial need, which can make it very difficult if not impossible for you to receive any financial aid through a last dollar scholarship.

Step 2: Colleges Review Applications And Determines Need

On receiving your completed FAFSA, your school or relevant scholarship provider will assess your financial need based on factors such as family income and assets, and other relevant information provided in the application.

Once the financial need is determined, your school’s financial aid office will calculate the gap between the total cost of attendance and the amount covered by other forms of financial aid. The cost of attendance for this purpose typically includes:

  • tuition
  • fees
  • textbooks
  • supplies
  • room and board.

The forms of financial aid that are factored into the calculation include federal grants, state grants, and scholarships.

Step 3: Last Dollar Scholarship may be Awarded to Cover Gap

Depending on the calculation, you may be awarded a last dollar scholarship amount that covers the remaining financial gap. For example, if your total cost of attendance is $20,000 and you receive $15,000 in other financial aid, the last dollar scholarship could cover the remaining $5,000.

Step 4: Funds Disburse to Your College or University

The scholarship funds are usually disbursed directly to your school on your behalf. This ensures that the money is used for educational expenses. These funds are rarely sent directly to a student’s bank account.

Last Dollar Scholarship Renewal Requirements

As with most forms of federal financial aid, last dollar scholarships are awarded for one academic year at a time. They are generally renewable for up to four years but they are not renewed automatically.  Students who receive this form of financial aid are required to meet some renewal criteria. Criteria vary from one school to another.

The most important renewal requirement is re-submission of the FAFSA. You have to fill out and submit the FAFSA every year with your current financial information. Every year, your financial aid eligibility is re-calculated based on the latest information. The amount of financial aid you receive through the last dollar scholarship may be different every year depending on your financial information and total cost of attendance.

If you have already been awarded a last-dollar scholarship, you will also need to maintain a certain GPA or meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) as defined by your college to maintain eligibility.

When applying for last dollar scholarships, make sure you carefully review the specific requirements and terms of each program and ensure you comply with the terms and conditions to maintain your eligibility. It’s just as important to stay informed about any changes or requirements related to your financial aid package. Your school’s financial aid office is your best resource for information and updates on everything related to financial aid.

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