Even if you haven’t given too much thought to your post-graduation plans, you’ve probably heard your teachers, administrators, and classmates make reference to college scholarships. Landing a scholarship can literally be a life-changing experience.

Scholarships are, basically, free money awarded to students in order to complete their post-high school education. Most people will jump at the opportunity to score free money. However, let’s take a closer look: what are the real benefits of getting a scholarship? What can it do for your future?

Benefit #1: Financial Security

Obviously, the most direct benefit of a scholarship is financial. Scholarships provide you with free funds to cover the cost of college tuition. Many go even further, including money to pay for other costs like housing, textbooks, food, and more.

Scholarships can allow you to pay for school without taking on debt. That’s an incredible opportunity; in 2019, the average college student graduated with a total of $29,900 in student loan debt. To put that number in perspective, that’s double what the average first-time home buyer paid as a down payment for a house that same year!

Doing the added work to secure a scholarship now can mean avoiding a major debt that will take years to pay off. This can be especially helpful if you’re going into a field like medicine, which will require a lot of (very expensive) post-graduate work.

Scholarships level the playing field a bit in terms of the financial burden of education. They offer a path for students from less-privileged backgrounds to pay for an education that might otherwise feel out of reach.

Benefit #2: Quality of Education

This goes hand-in-hand with the financial benefits of securing a college scholarship.

Many students end up delaying graduation because of the cost of college. This negatively impacts the quality of the education those students receive; when it takes longer to finish a degree, students tend to devote less time to their studies. Other life commitments like work and family may demand more attention over time, which means the student is less invested with each semester, and as a result, may end up retaining less information.

That’s not even accounting for students who drop out entirely. 40% of undergraduate students in the US will drop out of college before completing their degree. The longer it takes to finish college, the more likely a student is to leave without a degree.

With a scholarship, though, you can avoid a lot of the stress factors that can distract students away from a full-time class load. A scholarship makes it easier to complete your degree on a standard four-year track, which means it’s more likely that you’ll finish your degree, and that you’ll gain more from your experience.

Benefit #3: Career Prospects

Some scholarship awards are so prestigious that they work like an honorific title on their own. Think about the Rhodes Scholarship, for instance; even decades after you graduate, earning the title of “Rhodes Scholar” is still considered a very impressive credential. Earning a title like that can make a big difference for your career after college.

Employers understand that scholarships are very competitive these days. So, earning a prestigious met-based scholarship can help give the impression that you have exceptional ability in your field.

If you manage to earn a competitive scholarship, that’s something worth listing on a job application. It might give you an edge over other candidates.

Benefit #4: Quality of Life

Earning a scholarship means greater financial freedom, and financial freedom means personal freedom.

Many students have to work their way through college. According to the US Department of Education, 43% of all full-time undergraduate students, and 81% of part-time students, were working while enrolled in college in 2017. If you manage to land a scholarship that can cover your living expenses, though, you may be able to avoid the need to work. You could focus instead on your studies, or on other activities like service learning or an internship.

Even if you earn a smaller award that’s not enough to cover all your expenses, it can still take some of the pressure off. This will make your college experience much easier, and much more enjoyable.