This article is from the Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Fellowships FAQ, by Mark Kantrowitz with numerous contributions by others.
You may hear that millions or billions of dollars of scholarships go
unused each year because students don't know where to apply, but this
simply isn't true.
Most financial aid programs are highly competitive. According to the
National Postsecondary Student Aid Study conducted by the National
Center for Education Statistics at the US Department of Education,
only 1 in 25 students (that's 4%) receive private sector scholarships
and the average amount received is about $1,600.
The most common version of the unclaimed aid myth is that "$6.6
billion went unclaimed last year". This myth is based on a 1976-1977
academic year study by the National Institute of Work and Learning
that estimated that a total of $7 billion was potentially available
from employer tuition assistance programs, but that only about $300
million to $400 million was being used. This money goes unused because
it can't be used, is a 20-year-old estimate that has never been
substantiated, and is not available to the general public. Only
eligible employees whose employers offer tuition assistance and who
are enrolled in an eligible program can take advantage of such
programs. There are no unclaimed scholarships. Popular variations on
this myth include the figures $2.7 billion, $2 billion, $1 billion,
and $135 million.