Merit-Based Scholarships for College Students

Last updated: April 23, 2019

A merit scholarship is a financial award that students receive based on their academic success in high school. Merit-based scholarships are not only limited to a student’s grades, but also consider factors such as leadership roles, ACT and/or SAT scores, extracurricular activities and school or community involvement. Unlike need-based financial aid, merit scholarships do not take into account Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

In many cases, merit-based awards can help lower or completely cover the cost of a typical four-year college tuition. Some scholarships are even awarded to cover multiple academic years based on continuing student performance and involvement.

Some of the most generous financial aid awards come in the form of merit scholarships making them especially helpful for students who are caught in the gap of not qualifying for need-based aid and not being able to pay out-of-pocket for a college education. The same merit scholarship could go to a student living below the poverty level just as easily as it could go to a student in the 1 percent.

Merit scholarships are commonly offered by colleges and universities, however, many companies, organizations and foundations offer them as well. Explore our guide to learn more about merit-based opportunities and use our interactive scholarship tool to sort through scholarships based on award amount and eligibility.

Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid


Apply where you rank high academically: Applying to colleges where your grades put you in the top 10 percent of the student body can help. If you’re in the top quartile, there is a good chance colleges will try to lure you with merit aid.


Negotiate: If you receive two or more admissions letters from universities, some institutions may be willing to match a merit grant that you were offered by another university.


Compare net prices before choosing a college: In some cases, the largest merit scholarships are offered because the college has the highest net price due to higher tuition. Subtract grants and scholarships from the total cost of attendance (including additional expenses like tuition, fees, room, board, books, and transportation).


Acceptance rate: Typically speaking, the more selective a school is, the more conservative it acts in distributing merit money. Lesser known schools can have a higher acceptance rate and offer more merit scholarships, so be sure to consider a variety of options.


Consider out of state options: To attract out-of-state students, some universities will offer merit-based awards. Call the admissions office to find out whether merit awards are offered to out-of-state students.


How to Pay for College



There are hundreds of scholarships for students who qualify for merit-based aid, which are awarded by local organizations, private companies, societies and more.



Grants don’t need to be paid back and are based on your financial circumstances. They are usually funded by the federal government, your state or college.



While scholarships usually fund tuition, fellowships typically cover graduate study, research projects and abroad experiences without needing to be paid back.


Student Loans

You can borrow money from the government or a bank, but it needs to be paid back with interest. The federal government offers many loan options—fill out the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for financial aid. If you need help, use our interactive guide to learn how to answer every question.


Federal Work-Study Program

Provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to pay education expenses.


If you’re just beginning the process of finding suitable scholarships, make sure you’re prepared for the application process by starting a folder with the assets below.

Scholarship Application Preparation

Since merit scholarships are typically based on student performance, many awards also have prerequisites, such as requiring a portfolio of your work or a project report, which can take time to prepare.
GPA is a key factor in most merit-based scholarships. Try to get certified copies of your transcript early, so you have plenty of time to meet the deadline.
Good grades, tough courses and high scores on SAT or ACT standardized tests are most generally a prerequisite for merit-based awards and can help you stand out in the crowd against fellow applicants.
Your scholarship essay is what will bring attention to your application out of the pool of applicants. That’s why it’s important to craft a stand out piece that attests to your experience, adheres to the scholarship guidelines and most importantly, highlights your true personality.
Letters of recommendation are a true judgement of your character—something that can’t be revealed through your test scores or transcript. Reach out to former teachers, counselors or bosses, so that they can speak to your qualifications. You may also want to provide them with a resume that outlines your achievements and goals as well.

Merit Scholarships

Instructions: Click through the dropdowns below to sort by award amount.

Al Young Sports Journalism Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: December 31, 2019

The scholarship is merit-based, need-based and aims to encourage students to pursue sports journalism as a career. Applicants must be an undergraduate student enrolled full-time in a junior college or university located in the United States currently taking or planning to take journalism courses. Applicants must be AAJA member and committed to its mission.

Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: March 15, 2020

First generation college prospective students who are underrepresented, low income, and passionate about pursuing a career in health related fields. Students are not required to be U.S. citizens, but must have a 3.5 GPA to be considered.

Anna N Dosen Serbian Educational Fund

Amount: $3,000

Deadline: March 31, 2020

Graduating seniors and undergraduate students are eligible to apply for this award. Must have a GPA of 2.0 or higher and pursue a degree in health related fields. Preference to students of Serbian heritage.

Great Minds in Stem Scholarship Program

Amount: $500-$10,000

Deadline: April 1, 2020

Applicants must be of Hispanic origin and/or must demonstrate leadership or service within the Hispanic community. Applicant must also be enrolled in an accredited 2 or 4-year undergraduate or graduate program and have at least a 3.0 GPA. Must be pursuing a STEM degree.

Palmetto Fellows Scholarship

Amount: $6,700-$7,500

Deadline: June 15, 2019

Applicant must be enrolled in an approved SC public or private high school, an approved SC home school program of study or a preparatory high school located outside the State while a dependent of a legal resident of South Carolina. Must be planning to or enrolled to pursue a postsecondary education in South Carolina.

Express Medical Supply Scholarship

Amount: $500

Deadline: June 30, 2019

Must be currently enrolled in accredited university. Applicants are asked to tweet a picture that represents the heart of your hometown to be considered for this scholarship.

NLEAFCF General Scholarship

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: July 1, 2019

Applicant must be pursuing a bachelor's degree, associate's degree, or certificate at any accredited college, university or technical/vocational institution and maintain a 2.7 GPA. Applicant must be a dependent child, stepchild or legally adopted child of an eligible law enforcement officer or firefighter who was killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.

Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program (NEALP)

Amount: $1,500

Deadline: July 15, 2019

Applicant must be an Ohio resident and enrolled in or be accepted for enrollment approved nurse education programs in Ohio colleges, universities, hospitals, or vocational schools. Must show academic excellence.

Bright Flight Scholarship

Amount: $1,000-$3,000

Deadline: July 31, 2019

Applicant must be a Missouri resident graduating from high school and score in the top 3% of students in the state taking the ACT or SAT.

Fulbright Scholar Program

Amount: Varies

Deadline: September 16, 2019

The Fulbright Scholar Program offers teaching and research awards to students in the U.S. at the undergraduate and graduate level. Opportunities are open to people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, etc. Employees and immediate family members affiliated with the U.S. Department of State are ineligible to apply. See site for details.

Florida Stormwater Association Educational Foundation’s Scholarship

Amount: $2,000

Deadline: August 2, 2019

The scholarship awards financial aid to qualified students attending Florida colleges and universities who are interested in pursuing stormwater research, management or finance. Graduate student applicants in colleges or schools of engineering, natural science, public administration (or closely related fields) are eligible to apply.

Creative Biolabs Scholarship Program

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: July 20, 2019

Students worldwide are eligible to apply for this scholarship. Undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students, majoring in a science related field such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and molecular biology, are encouraged to apply. Must have a 3.0 GPA to be considered.

C. Richard and Audrey Barnes Nursing Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: December 1, 2019

Applicant must be pursuing an undergraduate nursing degree and be a member of an underrepresented minority group.

SimpliSafe STEM Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: November 30, 2019

SimpliSafe scholarship is for students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The program provides financial assistance to Bachelors, Masters, or PhD students enrolled in STEM degree programs. Applicant must be a US Citizen or legal permanent resident.

UCLA Graduate Education Scholarships

Amount: $5,000

Deadline: December 15, 2019

Several awards are available of up to $5,000 each, from which fees are paid, for graduate students in any field of study who are blind or who have a severe vision impairment. Proof of financial need via copy of DREAM Act Application (for California AB540 students).

Hawai'i Community Foundation Scholarships

Amount: Varies

Deadline: January 1, 2020

Hawaii Community Foundation is providing a wealth of financial support to qualified students throughout Hawaii. With over 250 scholarships, Hawaii students can surely find a scholarship that applies to them.

Wayne K Latham Project Management Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 1, 2020

The scholarship is open for applicants who are enrolled in or applying to a project management related degree program or a field benefiting from project management. The eligible students must be from Dallas/Fort Worth or attending or planning to attend an accredited degree program in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Students in Texas, USA attending or planning to attend an accredited degree program at any college or university in the USA are also eligible to apply.

American Indian Law School Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: March 15, 2021

The American Indian College Fund will award the second American Indian Law School Scholarship to a first-year student in the 2021-22 Harvard Law School. The scholarship covers all costs of attendance, including tuition for the three-year course of study at Harvard Law School, for one Native student. Th eligible applicants must be an American Indian or Alaska Native who are enrolled tribal members, or who are lineal descendants of an enrolled parent or grandparent.

Hatton W. Sumners Scholarships

Amount: Varies

Deadline: January 1, 2020

Students ranking in the top third of their class on an annual basis in Texas and Oklahoma are encouraged to apply for this award. The selection committee will review academic performance, civic engagement, and leadership abilities.

Idaho Postsecondary Credit Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: January 1, 2020

Applicant must be a resident of Idaho with 10 or more postsecondary education credits at the time of graduation or graduated from high school with an associates degree. Must have obtained a matching academic scholarship that is merit-based from a business or industry, or entities representing business or industry.

HubShout Internet Marketing Scholarship

Amount: $100

Deadline: November 1, 2019

The scholarship is to support the next generation of professionals or students with a demonstrated passion for Internet Marketing. There are two application Deadlines first is March 1st and next is November 1st of each year. The scholarship is open to students with at least one year of college.

Simplr Artificial Intelligence and Technology Scholarship

Amount: $7,500

Deadline: December 31, 2019

Simplr is offering a $7,500 scholarship to the student that writes the best essay on Artificial Intelligence. Students must be pursuing an undergraduate degree in computer science, math, information technology (IT) or a law degree. Students studying under the DACA program are eligible. For more information and for the essay prompt, visit their website.