Many scholarship and fellowship databases claim to be the largest and most comprehensive. The numbers they publicize often overstate the actual number and value of the private scholarships and fellowships listed in the award database. The size of the database doesn’t matter so much as the number of relevant scholarships and fellowships that match the student’s background, which is typically 50 to 100 for a high school senior in early fall.
Notwithstanding all the exaggerations, just how many scholarships and fellowships are there?
The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) is a very large, statistically significant survey of undergraduate and graduate students about how they paid for school. It is conducted every four years. The 2011-2012 NPSAS surveyed approximately 95,000 undergraduate students and 16,000 graduate students. The NPSAS includes a variable, PRIVAID, which measures the total amount of private scholarships and fellowships received by the students and used to pay for school. This variable may be used to determine an estimate of the total number of private scholarship and fellowship recipients and total amount of private scholarship and fellowship funding.
The odds of receiving a scholarship depend on the academic degree level. This table is based on the 2011-2012 NPSAS.
Of undergraduate students in Bachelor's degree programs in 2011-2012, very few get a "free ride." For example, 0.6% get enough scholarships and grants to cover 100% of the cost of attendance, 1.6% get enough scholarships and grants to cover 90% or more of the cost of attendance, 4.1% get enough to cover 75% or more of the cost of attendance and 13.7% get enough to cover 50% or more of the cost of attendance.