The Differences between Scholarship and Student Loan Payouts

Scholarships are generally granted in the same fashion as student loans. Whereas a student loan check is often cut directly to you, the student, you're not likely to ever lay eyes on your scholarship money. Instead, the scholarship money goes elsewhere: If a college offers you a scholarship that's a tuition discount, the bill that comes to you will have the scholarship amount credited. Or if you get a scholarship that's a book allowance, you might get a credit at the college bookstore. Independent or service organizations sometimes choose to write you an actual check, but these scholarship amounts are usually comparatively small.

Student loans, on the other hand, come directly to you. You'll get a check to deposit into your bank account and for five minutes will feel like you won the lottery — until you turn around and write that tuition check.

Student loans are usually paid out in one lump sum at the start of each school year or semester. But you may not receive the full amount of a scholarship award upfront. Government grants and loans are generally split into terms that are negotiated with colleges.

For the above reasons, some students prefer student loans over scholarships because the money comes directly to you (and in one lump sum) and then you can choose how to spend it. In the immediate sense, this might be a good thing if you've got your tuition covered but need to pay lab fees or room-and-board, or even purchase several business suits for an internship. But with that freedom comes temptation — you've paid your tuition and have some leftover, do you want to save it for living expenses or the next semester's tuition or do you want to buy that amazing new digital camera you've had your eye on?

Remember, a student loan is just that — a loan. You're eventually going to have to pay it back. And when you're writing those checks for 15 years to pay it back, you'll feel a whole lot better if you know the money funded your education rather than a lot of pizza parties for your college buddies. And if you do something foolish while you're in college like spend all of your student loan money on an expensive digital camera and then suddenly you realize that there isn't enough left to cover your tuition, guess what? You're not a college student anymore. And the student loan payments start pretty much immediately.

Scholarships, on the other hand, are forever. You might have less flexibility on how to spend them, but at least you won't ever have to pay them back.