Your College Planning Specialists

merit scholarships

College is expensive. There’s no way around it.

And inflation has only increased the cost of tuition, housing, books, and fees.

Prospective students and their parents will likely need financial aid to afford a college degree. Help may come in the form of need-based financial aid, loans, grants, work-study programs, or merit based scholarships.

It’s wise to plan early to ensure that you can attend the school of your dreams.

High school students may prepare for higher education by maintaining good grades, receiving high test scores on the SAT or ACT, joining extracurricular activities, building leadership skills, participating in community service, and excelling in one specific area or hobby.

The best way to qualify for scholarships and grants is to show advisors and the institution’s scholarship committee how you’re an outstanding student and person, and why you deserve a financial award.

What is a Merit Scholarship?

Students who receive merit scholarships have a good high school GPA, excellent ACT and SAT scores, shown great leadership skills, or excelled in an instrument or sport.

Basically, students who are considered high achieving, motivated, dedicated, and passionate will be the ones awarded merit based scholarships.

Colleges are most likely to reward students with merit scholarships when they believe a student belongs at their school.

High-performing students may also receive a merit scholarship if they excel in the subject they would like to major in.

For instance, if a student has scored above and beyond in their art classes throughout high school, they have a good chance of receiving a merit scholarship if they apply for an art degree.

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Tips for Merit Scholarships

  • Find a scholarship where your test scores and achievements are higher than the minimum requirements
  • Apply to scholarships based on your background. For example, many scholarships are reserved for women in STEM. If that applies to you, go for it.
  • Work hard to increase your test scores and grades.
  • Find a hobby, sport, or instrument that interests you and excel in it.
  • Become the leader of a group you are involved in or the captain of your sports team.
  • Show the colleges you apply to what unique skills you bring to the table.

How are Merit Scholarships Different From Need-Based Scholarships?

Income has nothing to do with whether a student is eligible for a merit scholarship.

These scholarships are strictly based on academic excellence, achievements, skills, talents, and hard work. This is something students earned on their own and has nothing to do with their parents or other circumstances.

Need-based scholarships are typically awarded to students who have a financial need.

Schools often determine if a student will be awarded financial aid by collecting their parent’s income information.

The most common need-based scholarships include pell grants, federal subsidized student loans, and work-study grants.

While need-based financial aid is provided by the federal and state governments, merit-based scholarships are awarded by colleges, religious groups, community groups, cultural organizations, national foundations, and private individuals such as wealthy alumni.

A student may receive need-based scholarships for every year that they attend college, while students are generally only awarded a merit scholarship once

Two of the most popular and highly competitive national scholarships are the Gates Millennium Scholarship and the Coca Cola Scholars Scholarship.

How do Merit-Based Scholarships Work?

When a student is given a merit-based scholarship, it is considered an award for their achievements and does not need to be paid back.

Loans need to be paid back upon graduation, which makes the merit scholarship attractive to eligible students and parents.

Anything that helps lower the cost of college can be exciting and offer financial relief.

How Much is a Merit Award?

While merit-based scholarships tend to range from $1,000 to $35,000, the average merit scholarship reward is a little over $11,000.

How much a student receives will likely be determined based on the cost of the school they enroll in, whether they are out-of-state students, and if they are full-time or part-time students.

More than 50% of students awarded a merit scholarship are A students. This tells you that a high grade point average and test scores mean a lot but are not everything.

Almost just as many B and C students have received merit scholarships for being great leaders or other impressive achievements.

Speak With a Professional

When you reach out to teachers, guidance counselors, academic advisors, and college planning specialists, you will learn how to increase your chances of winning a merit scholarship award.

Even if you aren’t the best student but have been told you excel in something specifically or have an exceptional talent or skill — apply for as many scholarships as possible.

The more scholarships you apply for, the more likely you are to get one. You can apply for multiple scholarships, not just ones offered at the colleges or universities you apply to.

Students often miss out on great opportunities because they lack confidence or resources. By doing your research and taking the time to analyze yourself and discover your strengths, you open up the doors to your future.