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



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.

B. Bradford Barnes Memorial Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: February 28, 2021

The scholarship awards legal residents of Delaware, who are high school seniors and who rank in upper quarter of class and have a combined score of 1290 on the SAT. The applicant must be enrolled in full-time at the University of Delaware.

Charles l. Hebner Memorial Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: February 28, 2021

The scholarship awards legal residents of Delaware, who are high school seniors and who rank in upper quarter of class and have a combined score of 1000 on the SAT. The applicant must be enrolled in full-time at the University of Delaware and majoring in the humanities or social sciences. Preference will be given to political science majors.

NAAAP Philadelphia Future Leaders Scholarship

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: March 15, 2021

This scholarship recognizes and rewards Asian American students in the Philadelphia region who have demonstrated strong leadership potential. Applicant must be a graduating high school seniors and current college students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and belonging to Greater Philadelphia region details of which are given below. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Bucks Southern New Jersey: Camden and Atlantic County Delaware: New Castle County

ASDSO Scholarship

Amount: $5,000 - $10000

Deadline: March 31, 2021

The ASDSO Scholarships are awarded annually to undergraduate students who are U.S. citizens enrolled in accredited programs in engineering or fields related to the design, construction, or operation of dams. Students must be enrolled in an accredited civil engineering program, or in a related field as determined by ASDSO. Also, the applicant must demonstrate an interest in pursuing a career in hydraulics, hydrology or geotechnical disciplines.

Toptal Scholarships

Amount: $10,000

Deadline: March 31, 2021

Toptal is supporting future female leaders (CEOs, founders, world leaders who want to change the world) by offering a $10,000 scholarship and one year of mentorship.

HENAAC Scholars Program

Amount: $500-$10,000

Deadline: April 1, 2021

Applicant must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate college or university program and be pursuing a degree in STEM. Applicant must be of Hispanic descent and/or must deminonstrate significant leadership or service within the underserved community. and have at least a 3.0 GPA.

UU Ministerial Student Scholarships

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 15, 2021

Scholarship funds are available to students in aspirant or candidate status and enrolled in a Master of Divinity Degree program leading to fellowship as a Uniterian Universalist Minister.

CIC/Anna Chennault Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 21, 2021

This scholarship is for LGBTQ students entering college with a visual arts portfolio. Applicants do not need to pursue a major in arts in college.

North Carolina Home Builders Educational Foundation, Inc. Scholarships

Amount: Varies

Deadline: April 30, 2021

Each year, the North Carolina Home Builders Educational Foundation awards scholarships based on a combination of need and merit to four-year college students entering their junior or senior year and technical school students entering their second year who have declared their major in a construction-related field

Joe Perdue Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 1, 2021

Students who plan to seek a managerial career in the club industry and are attending an accredited, 4-year college or university undergraduate program may apply; Minimum GPA of 2.5 of 4.0 scale or 4.5 on 6.0 scale.

Christos And Georgia Trakatellis Fellowship

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 1, 2021

The Christos And Georgia Trakatellis fellowships are awarded based on merit and need and available only to graduates of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

Beulah Frey Environmental Scholarship

Amount: $2,500

Deadline: May 1, 2021

The scholarship awards are available to high school seniors applying to two or four-year colleges/universities for the upcoming academic year to further their studies in environmentally-related fields. The applicants must be from Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Beaver, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Wildcat Excellence Tuition Award

Amount: Varies

Deadline: May 1, 2021

Applicant must be a graduating senior from Snake River High School and must be planning to attend a 2 or 4 year college or university program. Must have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, include two letters of recommendation, and preference is given to students attending an Idaho college or university.

Creative Biolabs Scholarship Program

Amount: $1,000

Deadline: July 20, 2021

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.

GMR Web Team Digital Marketing Scholarship Program

Amount: $500

Deadline: July 30, 2021

The digital marketing scholarship program is to support undergraduate level marketing students who are pursuing a marketing degree or a business degree with an emphasis in marketing. The scholarship is awarded both spring and fall semester with deadline dates as January 3rd and July 30th.

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.