Scholarship Resources

How to Register and Apply for CFNIL Scholarships

Watch this video for an overview of CFNIL's application process and to understand why it's worth your time to apply!

Unless otherwise noted on the individual scholarship page, CFNIL uses an online application system. Learn how to register for the scholarship application portal and navigate your Applicant Dashboard in these videos.

Are you interested in the two new scholarships, open during the Spring Cycle, that are available for people with intellectual disabilities? Check out these videos!

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The CFNIL Reference Process

What is a third-party reference?

References complete an online form to verify information or provide short responses that help reviewers choose the best candidate for each scholarship. There are three types of references.

General Reference

A non-family member who can speak to your work ethic and character. This should not be your counselor. Examples: employer, coach, teacher, advisor, etc.

High School Academic Verifier

Your counselor or registrar will verify your most recent academic information. You will only see this section if you are a graduating senior.

Supplemental Reference

A few of our scholarships will ask for an additional reference in part 2 of your application. This may be a specific coach, music instructor, faith leader, or someone who can verify a special service that you receive. You will only see these requests if you qualify for a scholarship that requires a supplemental reference.

Ask your references if they’re willing to complete the forms before you finish that portion of the application. Inform them that they will receive an online form to complete and confirm the email address they would like you to use.

Enter their email address into your application. Double-check the spelling, as you will not be notified if the email is undeliverable. Follow the directions to send your request.

An email with a link to an online form will be sent to each of your references. Make sure your references received the email!

If they did not receive your request, you should:  

  • Ask them to check their spam folder.  
  • Ensure you entered their email address correctly.  
  • If you need help resending a reference request, email us at

Check to see if all your references have completed their forms on your Applicant Dashboard in the portal. You will see a third-party column that indicates if references are complete. (i.e. 2/2 means all references are complete for that portion of the application)


Each scholarship cycle has its own deadlines, but all references have additional time after the applicant deadline to complete their online forms. Reference deadlines can be found on the Scholarship Portal login page, within your application, and on your submission confirmation emails. It is your responsibility to check in with your reference before the deadline. If all references are not completed by the reference deadline, your application will be incomplete.


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Financial Need: FAFSA and Other Considerations

About one-third of our scholarships consider financial need in the selection process. In part 1 of your application, you will be asked if you would like to be considered for these opportunities. If you say ‘Yes’ - and we strongly recommend that you do if you’re going to complete the FAFSA - you will see a Financial Aid Information section. The updated FAFSA will produce an SAI (Student Aid Index) number, rather than the previous EFC (Estimated Family Contribution). You will be able to provide your SAI from the FSA calculator or from your completed FAFSA. This preliminary information will be used to match you to the scholarships you qualify for. We will reach out in the spring via email to collect your official FAFSA Student Summary.  

The application will also give you the opportunity to share information with us regarding extenuating financial circumstances and other factors that we feel are important to our reviewers but are not considered through the FAFSA process. If you need support in completing the financial need section, you can reach out to us to discuss which option might best meet your needs.


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Submitting Academic Information

Some of our scholarships have criteria regarding your academic performance. Depending on your current educational status and when you completed high school or an equivalent degree, you will be prompted to provide different information.

Graduating Seniors

If you are graduating from high school this year (this includes dual credit students), you will be asked to provide your current cumulative, unweighted GPA and your class rank, if applicable. This may be from the last semester of your junior year or from the first semester of your senior year. You will also send an academic verification request to your counselor or registrar through your application to confirm that the information you entered is correct. Your application will not be considered complete until your reference has submitted their online form.

Current College Students

Some of our scholarships have a mixed pool of applicants that include current graduating seniors and past graduates. If you graduated within the last 5 years, you will provide both academic information from your final year of high school and your most recent college semester by uploading transcripts. Your transcripts do not need to be official-you should not have to pay to get this information! We can help you convert an image into a PDF if you need. Your transcript will need to show your name, your cumulative GPA, and the name of your institution.  

If you graduated more than five years ago, you will not need to provide academic information from high school.

Adults Returning to College or Attending for the First Time

The application will adapt based on the answers you provide. You may be asked to provide your most recent college information.  

If you need support with the academic information portion of the application, please reach out, and we will be happy to walk through this section with you. 


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GPA and SAI Conversion

As FAFSA and admissions processes evolve, we have adapted our program to help donors support the type of scholar they have in mind when they create a scholarship in perpetuity. Our GPA and SAI Conversion metrics allow us to easily adapt criteria to the current financial aid and academic merit structures while maintaining the integrity of the original intent of each scholarship, no matter what year they were established or how practices change in the future. 

GPA Conversion

Hi-Set ScoreGED ScoreGPA MinimumImportance in Selection
Any ScoreAny ScoreAny GPALow Consideration
30 or above580 or above2.0 or higherModerate Consideration
45620 or above3.0 or higherHigh Consideration
N/AN/A3.5+Priority Consideration









SAI Conversion

Previous EFCLevel of NeedSAI Conversion2023/2024 Metrics based on 
2022/2023 Maximum Pell Grant ($7,395)
0 - 3,000Exceptional-1,500 - 0Below 0
3,000 - 5,000HighHalf Pell and belowBelow 3,699
5,000 - 10,000ModerateDouble Pell and belowBelow 14,791
10,000+LowDouble Pell and higher14,791 or above
















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Scholarship Selection Process

CFNIL volunteers work in small committees to review a batch of scholarship applications. All applications are reviewed anonymously. The committees recommend scholarship awards based on the purpose and specific criteria of each scholarship as established by its donor(s).


CFNIL Scholarship Program FAQs

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You have a lot of scholarships. Do I need to submit applications for each one?

Nope! CFNIL utilizes a universal application that matches applicants to every scholarship with which they are eligible. We have three cycles, each of which has its own universal application (see details below), and all of which are accessed via CFNIL's online scholarship application portal

Once you are matched with scholarships for which you are eligible, you select the ones for which you'd like to complete the application process. You complete one short writing prompt for each scholarship you select. 



Winter / Main 


APPLICATION WINDOWNovember 1 - January 1December 1 - February 1March 1 - April 15
CYCLE SPECIFICSThree scholarships included via one universal application.         
- Fehr Graham         
- Gary S. Wilmer/RAMI Music         
- Howard D. Colman
Over 120 scholarships included via          
one universal application.
Four scholarships:        
- Diane Thompson-Wells* Memorial         
- Richard J. Schnell Memorial*       
- Ann W. Dooley Advancement
- Colleen Maher Inspirational


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Can I make changes to my application after it has been submitted?

Once part one of your application is submitted, you can not make changes.  You can reach out to our staff if you need to adjust a response.  We can help you get it updated and double-check your eligibility. 


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What is the amount of each scholarship award?

CFNIL scholarships offer varying award amounts, most of which range from $500 to $10,000, depending on the size of the particular fund, the number of qualified applicants, the renewability of the scholarship, and the directions given by the donor(s) of the funds. Our application process is competitive, and not all applicants will receive a scholarship award.


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When will I be notified if my application is successful?

You will be notified via letter or e-mail regarding your application status by:

  • Fall Cycle Scholarships: March 1

  • Winter Cycle Scholarships: May 1

  • Spring Cycle Scholarships: June 1


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If I receive a scholarship, when and where will the scholarship money be sent?

Scholarship awards are paid directly to the academic institution by the end of July.


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What are the basic eligibility criteria?

Each CFNIL Scholarship is created with a special intent and the selection criteria is determined with input from the donors when the fund is established. All of our scholarships can be applied to the full cost of attendance and can be sent to any US-accredited, non-profit, or public institution or certification program. 

The majority of our opportunities are for students with a permanent address within CFNIL’s service area (Boone, Ogle, Stephenson, and Winnebago County). However, as our program continues to grow, we do have some scholarships that include a wider range of locations.   

We recommend using the helpful filter functions on our scholarship page ( if you are wondering if you might qualify. You can easily sort by geographic location, field of study, high school, and more! If you are still uncertain, you may contact us, and we can talk through what you might qualify for. 


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I have a GED, not a high school diploma. Am I eligible for scholarships?

YES! Applicants who have received a GED or an Illinois State Diploma are encouraged to apply. You will be asked to provide the equivalent information regarding your education. If you have any questions about this portion of the application, please contact us and we can support you. 


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I don’t have a 4.0 GPA or a particularly low EFC. AM I still eligible for CFNIL scholarships?

CFNIL has a variety of scholarships. Some are available based on academic achievement and financial need, but many are available based on what high school you attended, your future area of study, or extracurricular activities. We encourage you to dive into our list of scholarships to see what scholarships you are eligible for.


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Do I have to be a full-time college student to be eligible?

Some scholarships are only for full-time students, but most only require that you are working towards a degree or certification.


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Past Years' Scholarship Recipients

he Community Foundation of Northern Illinois believes in the transformative power of education. That is why we work with donors to create endowed scholarship funds benefiting local students. Since 2000, CFNIL has awarded over $3,300,000 to local students pursuing post-secondary education.

View the names of past scholarship recipients by clicking the links below.

2023 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients

2022 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients

2021 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2020 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2019 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2018 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2017 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2016 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 

2015 CFNIL Scholarship Recipients 


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Additional Scholarship Resources

There is a new, local one-stop source for all things scholarships in our region! Check out Scholarships Northern Illinois ( to access information about dozens of other scholarships specifically for students in Northern Illinois, as well as a wealth of additional scholarships and financial aid resources. 

Scholarships Northern Illinois logo


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Questions? Issues with your application? Contact Heather!

Heather Cunningham, Program Coordinator and IYWT Liaison, headshot
Heather Cunningham
Program Coordinator and IYWT Liaison
Phone: 779-210-8209
Email: Heather Cunningham