Scholarships may be classified into three primary groups.

Some scholarships have a "bond" requirement. Recipients may be required to work for a particular employer for a specified period of time, or to work in rural or remote areas; otherwise they may be required to repay the value of the support they received from the scholarship. This is particularly the case with teacher training scholarships and currently with health and medical education scholarships for people from or prepared to work in rural and remote areas in Australia. The programs offered by the uniformed services of the United States (Army, Navy,Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, National oceanic and atmospheric administration commissioned corps, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corps) sometimes resemble such scholarships.

Merit-Based: Financial aid for which financial need is not used to determine the recipient. The recipient may be determined by students’ athletic, academic, artistic or other abilities. The actual monetary value of the scholarship may be negligible, the scholarship being meant to motivate the student and promote the study of the subject. However, this is not always the case and the largest scholarships are almost always merit-based.

Need-Based: Financial aid for which the student and family’s financial situation is a primary factor in determining the recipient. Usually such scholarship will cover all or part of the tuition and may even cover living-costs. Very often even need-based private scholarships require the awardees to be distinguished students, as the deed founding the award may include a phrase like: “for the studies of founder's favorite subject in founder's favorite institution of higher education for a talented youths of limited means from founder's home town/county/state etc.“

Ethnicity Based: Financial aid where applicants must initially qualify by race, religion, or national origin. After filtering the applicants based on their ethnicity, additional factors are taken into consideration to determine the final recipients.