Merit-Based Scholarships for College Students

Last updated: November 08, 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.

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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

1

Scholarships

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

 
2

Grants

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.

 
3

Fellowships

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

 
4

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.

 
5

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.

BlankStyle Scholarship Fund

Amount: $2,000

Deadline: December 31, 2021

Eligible applicants for this award include any college student who has achieved academic excellence.

Cameron Impact Scholarship

Amount: $50,000

Deadline: September 13, 2021

Eligible applicants must maintain a GPA of 3.7 or above during high school, be in the high school graduating Class of 2020, be involved in community service and extracurricular activities, and be planning to enroll in a full-time course of study toward a bachelor’s degree at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university for the full academic year following high school graduation.

Florida Stormwater Association Educational Foundation's Scholarship

Amount: $2,000

Deadline: August 6, 2021

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.

HaPI Measurement Scholarship

Amount: $500

Deadline: September 1, 2021

Applicants need to submit a document detailing their academic background and interests, a research project they are planning to conduct, how this award will advance the completion of this project, and a list of expenditures.

Jason Pettigrew Memorial ARE Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: August 27, 2021

This scholarship helps defray the costs associated with the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Applicants must be a current Associate AIA member, holding an active National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) record and be eligible to sit for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

Seattle Yachts Scholarship

Amount: $1,500

Deadline: December 31, 2021

Applicants must be currently enrolled in an accredited university, having completed at least 40 undergraduate credit hours. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate volunteer work in their community.

Demaurio Clark Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: October 1, 2021

This scholarship is available to any student currently enrolled in an accredited college or university. Applicants must submit an essay about how we can ensure young adults have the necessary knowledge to be financially responsible.