Government vs Private Scholarships: Pros and Cons

 Securing scholarship funding for higher education is a major concern for many Nigerian students and their families. With the high costs of college and university continuing to rise every year, scholarships have become an essential means of making post-secondary education more affordable and accessible.

Students in Nigeria have two main options when it comes to scholarships: those provided by the government, and those offered by private organizations. Both have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

In this post, we’ll break down the key pros and cons of government and private scholarships in the Nigerian context to help students make an informed decision when applying for funding.

Government Scholarships in Nigeria

Scholarships provided by federal and state governments aim to improve access to higher education, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some major examples include the Bilateral Education Agreement Scholarship Awards, FederalScholarship Awards, and State Scholarship Awards.


Need-based aid

Government scholarships prioritize students who demonstrate financial need. This helps ensure access for low-income students.

Merit-based aid

Many government scholarships like the Bilateral Education Agreement Awards also provide scholarships based on academic achievement, allowing high-achieving students to benefit as well.

Wide reach

Federal and state government scholarships are open to students across Nigeria. This expands opportunities beyond just a few regions.


Scholarships like the Bilateral Education Agreement Awards are highly prestigious given the rigorous selection process. This can help recipients stand out to graduate schools and employers.

Potentially covers more costs

Some government scholarships are comprehensive, covering tuition, housing, books, healthcare, and even a monthly stipend. This significantly reduces the financial strain on recipients.



Limited funding

Due to budget constraints, government scholarships cannot meet the needs of every deserving and qualified applicant. Competition is very high.

Focus on specific programs

Most federal and state scholarships emphasize STEM fields. Students pursuing humanities, arts, and social sciences may have fewer options.

Earlier deadlines

Government scholarship applications usually open 6-12 months in advance of enrollment. This requires more planning compared to private aid.

Lengthy process

It can take several months from application to notification since so many students apply. The red tape involved also slows things down.

Contractual obligations

Government scholarships often require recipients to work for the public sector for a certain number of years after graduation. This limits students' freedom to pursue private-sector careers.


Private Scholarships in Nigeria

In addition to government aid, Nigerian students can apply for scholarships from private companies, foundations, charities, schools, religious institutions, trusts, non-profits, and more. Some major examples are the MTN Foundation Scholarship, The Shell Scholarship, and EduLoan Scholarship Awards.


Wider eligibility

Private scholarships use more flexible criteria beyond just grades and test scores. This creates opportunities for average students.

Support specific backgrounds

There are many niche private scholarships for marginalized groups like women, ethnic minorities, refugees, and people with disabilities.

Reward passions

Students pursuing less popular majors like arts, music, or athletics can find more targeted private scholarships based on their interests and talents.

Recipient freedom

Most private scholarships do not impose any contractual obligations on recipients after graduation. Students can pursue any career.

Application ease

Many private scholarships rely just on an application form, essay, and recommendations. The process is simpler than most government scholarships.

Larger amounts

Exceptionally high-achieving students can earn full rides from prestigious private scholarships, covering more costs than typical government ones.


Lengthy process

There is often limited information available about private scholarship criteria and selection methodology. It is not always clear why some students receive them over others.

Scams prevalent

Students have to watch out for phony private scholarships that charge application fees but provide no actual funding. It can be hard to tell legitimate opportunities from scams.

Funding fluctuations

If the sponsoring organization has a bad financial year, they may reduce the number or size of scholarships offered. Government aid is more stable year-to-year.

Need not considered

Most private scholarships focus on merit rather than financial circumstances. Lower-income students with good academics may still miss out.

Narrow criteria

Private scholarships usually have very specific eligibility requirements related to location, major, ethnicity, employer, etc. Few students may qualify.

Tax implications

Private scholarships may count as taxable income. Government aid does not. This increases the burden on recipients.

Key Differences Between Government and Private Scholarships

1. Funding source

Government aid comes from taxpayer dollars while private aid comes from philanthropic donations, corporate giving, endowed funds, etc.

2. Aid philosophy

Government scholarships aim to create equity and accessibility while private ones reward excellence in academics, sports, arts, etc.

3. Application timeline

Government aid requires applying 6-12 months early; private scholarships can be applied for only weeks before starting college.

4. Criteria

Government scholarships consider financial need and grades; private ones look at specific talents, experiences, demographics, etc.

5. Contractual obligations

Government scholarships impose work contracts; private ones do not.

6. Stability

Government scholarships persist year after year; private ones depend on sponsors.

7. Amount

Private scholarships can sometimes offer more generous funding than typical government ones.


Which Is Better for Nigerian Students?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In general, students should apply to a mix of both government and private scholarships to maximize their options.

Here are some guidelines on which channel may be advantageous depending on a student's profile:

High financial need: Focus on government scholarships first to take advantage of need-based aid.

Strong grades/test scores: Apply for both - merit-based government aid and competitive private scholarships.

Average grades: Emphasize private scholarships that use less strict academic criteria.

Unique talents/experiences: Leverage private scholarships targeting your specialty like arts, sports, or cultural background.

Specific career interest: Use private scholarships from associations in your field.

Fixed career path: Avoid government scholarships with contractual obligations. 

With strategic scholarship applications, most Nigerian students can secure at least some level of funding from either government or private sources. Casting a wide net with both channels offers the best chance at affordable higher education.



The costs of higher education in Nigeria continue to increase, making scholarships essential for many families. Government and private scholarships both provide advantages in terms of accessibility, generous amounts, and prestige. However, students need to weigh factors like eligibility requirements, aid philosophy, application timelines, and post-graduation obligations.

Applying to a balanced mix of government and private scholarships based on one's profile and financial circumstances can help Nigerian students maximize their available funding and make college or university more affordable. With strategic planning, hard work, and a little luck, scholarships can open the doors to higher education and a brighter future.

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