A scholarship may sound like the answer to all your college-financing problems, and depending on its size, it may be.

After all, it is free money (that you worked incredibly hard for), but it does not come without a few strings attached.

These strings can be as loose as “You must be enrolled in an accredited school” or as tight as “You may not study outside of the United States.” Ron Ramsdell, founder of College Aid Consulting Services, says the scholarships with the most requirements tend to come from organizations other than a college and have high monetary value. So if you’re offered a full ride from a Fortune 500 company, you’ll want to comb through the scholarship’s terms and conditions extra carefully. Though, to avoid any unpleasant surprises, it’s smart to do that with any scholarship.

Whether you’re evaluating scholarships now or hoping to land one in the future, consider these four factors before signing on the dotted line.

1. The Length of the Scholarship

There are two types of scholarships: recurring and one-time. Dean Skarlis, president of the College Advisor of New York, says most but not all one-time scholarships are private, meaning they come from non-college organizations. If you receive one for your freshman year, don’t automatically count on it for subsequent years. While the terms and conditions will vary on recurring scholarships, they can be renewed each year — though many cap at four years — provided you continue to meet all qualifications.

2. The GPA You Need to Keep Up

To hold onto a recurring scholarship, you’ll often need to maintain a minimum GPA, which Skarlis says is usually a 3.0, 3.2 or 3.5. Be sure to check when your GPA will be assessed too; it generally happens either at the end of your first semester or at the end of your freshman year. Most likely it will be the latter, but it’s best to be certain.

3. How It Will Affect Your Financial Aid Package

Sometimes, outside scholarships can work against students who are receiving need-based aid,” Skarlis says. This is because colleges consider the money a new “resource,” so if your estimated family contribution (EFC) is $20,000 and you then get a $3,000 private scholarship, your EFC increases to $23,000. In that case, the college will likely reduce your entire financial aid package by $3,000. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — you still get the same amount of money — but it’s probably not realistic to assume you can add the scholarship to your existing financial aid package.

4. If You Can Study Abroad

Do you dream of spending a semester in Barcelona or Buenos Aires? Ramsdell has occasionally seen scholarships that won’t allow students to study abroad. While students may continue to receive federal aid if they are enrolled in an approved study abroad program, nonfederal aid, such as private scholarships, are not held to the same rules. If you don’t see anything about studying abroad in a scholarship’s terms and conditions, check with both the organization granting it and your school’s financial aid office.

Ultimately, there could be just about anything in the terms and conditions of your scholarship, so you’ll want to read them carefully. The scholarship administrator should verbally walk you through the award’s requirements, but they don’t always offer, so don’t be shy about asking. Once you have the terms and conditions explained to you, read them over yourself and enlist outside help — your college financial aid office is a good place to start — if anything is unclear. Then you can make a decision with all the information and, hopefully, not a single doubt.