Merit scholarships are one of the best ways to help students pay for college. Whether you excel in grades, test scores, or extracurriculars, there are merit scholarships out there for you. Check out our list of top private merit scholarships below, as well as our lists of college-specific merit scholarships and our guide on how to win these scholarships. And if you came here looking for the National Merit Scholarship, you can skip straight down to the bottom of the page for information on that!
Merit scholarships at public colleges & universities
- Alabama offers a wide range of merit programs available to students both in-state and out
- ASU offers a number of generous need- and merit-based scholarship programs for students
- Offers the National Scholars Presidential Scholarship to National Merit Finalists and National Achievement Finalists
- This program awards full-tuition scholarships to students both in-state and out-of-state, along with several other perks (including a $1,000 technology stipend)
- UC-Berkeley offers scholarships based on both need and merit
- UC-Boulder offers a variety of merit- and need-based scholarship programs to both in-state and out-of-state students
- Several merit programs are offered, the largest and most prestigious of which is the President’s Scholarship
- The President’s Scholarship is offered to 50 of the top high school senior applicants
- The University of Michigan offers mostly need-based, but several merit scholarships as well
- Several full-tuition merit scholarships available to students both in-state and out-of-state
- For UVA’s Jefferson Scholars program, in-state scholars receive $26,000 each year, and out-of-state or international Jefferson Scholars will receive an annual stipend of over $53,000
- This program creates a network of current scholars and alumni, along with providing a variety of structured enrichment opportunities to scholars
- Merit programs include the 1693 Scholars Program and the Monroe Scholars Program ($3,000 research stipend, special housing option)
Merit scholarships at private national universities
- Offers a full-tuition academic merit scholarship (the Presidential Scholars Program) to 15 students
- No separate application is required to be considered for the scholarship, although students must apply through the Early Action application process
- BU has generous scholarship opportunities including both need-based and merit-based scholarships
- Six separate programs available, five of which are for incoming freshmen (with one for rising juniors)
- Carnegie Mellon University offers scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students on the basis of both merit and financial need
- Case Western Reserve University has several scholarships that students are automatically considered for, as well as scholarships by additional application
- Duke offers 9 merit programs which include full-tuition scholarships
- Elon offers merit- and need-based programs to students
- Check out the Georgetown Incentive Scholarships for need-based aid with a merit component
- A number of merit scholarship programs are offered, including several specific to the arts (look under “Academic Merit Awards/Scholarships”)
- NYU offers a mix of merit and need-based programs for students
- The Rensselaer Medal Scholarship is a 4-year, minimum $15,000 per year merit scholarship
- SMU offers merit scholarships up to full tuition & room/board!
- Other scholarships also include awards for students in specific majors (such as Engineering, the arts, and STEM)
- UChicago offers merit scholarships and scholarships specifically meant for first-generation college students
- A number of full-tuition merit scholarships are offered, including the Isaac Bashevis Singer Scholarship and the Ronald A. Hammond Scholarship
- The University of Rochester offers a wide variety of merit scholarships for all different types of students
- USC offers a number of full-tuition, half-tuition, and quarter-tuition merit scholarships
- All students are considered for partial tuition scholarships by simply submitting their application
- There are 130 full tuition scholarships awarded that require a separate scholarship application (that is due on December 5th)
- Full-tuition awards plus summer stipends for study abroad, research or service projects will be awarded to 250 students; other, smaller merit programs are also available
- Villanova University awards a number of scholarships based on students’ academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and leadership skills. Awards range from $500 all the way to the prestigious Presidential Scholarship, which covers full tuition, room, board, general fees, and textbooks for eight semesters
- WFU has a wide variety of merit programs available to incoming students, including general merit scholarships (such as the Reynolds Scholarships) and scholarships recognizing achievement in art, dance, debate, music, and theater (Presidential Scholarships for Distinguished Achievement)
- Washington Universities’ Danforth, Ervin, and Rodriguez Scholar Programs are all merit-based scholarship programs ranging up to the full cost of tuition
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute offers merit scholarships to students ranging from $10,000 per year to $25,000 per year
Merit scholarships at small liberal arts colleges
- Denison offers over 1000 scholarships to first year students
- Scholarships range from $2,000 to $46,000
- Merit scholarships range from $15,000 per year to the full cost of tuition
- Kenyon awards merit aid to about the top 15% of admitted students
- Scholarships for students talented in art, creative writing, and music are also available
- Merit scholarships awarded to approximately 50% of U.S. first-year students
- Macalester (unlike many top schools) also offers merit scholarships to International Students
- Merit awards range from $2,000 to $64,000 over four years
- Grinnell offers several merit scholarship programs which range from $10,000 to $50,000 per year
- Oberlin offers merit scholarships based on academics and also “contributions to the student’s school and home community.”
What is the National Merit scholarship?
Every year, high school juniors with the highest PSAT/NMSQT scores in the nation receive National Merit Scholarships. There are about 7,500 recipients each year and they receive $2,500 each.
This is a great scholarship to receive, and it’s one more reason to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT and other standardized tests. We recommend consulting the College Board’s free study materials to achieve a high score on this test!
Although this is one of the most widely-known merit scholarships, it is far from the only one. In fact, there are many merit scholarships out there with much higher award amounts than this one. Be sure to peruse the rest of our list to find other merit scholarship opportunities.
Also see: How to win a National Merit Scholarship
How to find merit scholarships at your college
Whether you are applying for admission or returning for your second, third, or fourth year, be sure to check your college for merit scholarship opportunities.
Many colleges list merit scholarship opportunities for incoming students on their admissions or financial aid sites. For reference, Kenyon College lists all of their merit scholarships for incoming freshmen on their financial aid page.
If you’re a current student looking for merit scholarships, try talking to your academic advisor and/or the head of your academic department. Many departments have scholarship awards for current students which they award every semester or year. Some require applications while others may consider students automatically.
Be sure to check in with your financial aid office as well! They may offer their own scholarships or be able to point you in the right direction.
How to win merit scholarships
Here are some tips to help you win merit scholarships:
Turn your achievements into aspirations
When you apply for merit scholarships, you will be competing against many other applicants with high grades and test scores. So, how do you stand out from the crowd?
The best way to make your application stand out is to use your essays to take the next step from everything you’ve accomplished. Don’t just discuss how hard you worked for your grades; discuss what you learned from your courses and how they helped you focus your goals for the future. Then talk about how your life experiences have given you the tools to achieve your goals. Finding ways to help connect your past to your future is the best way to make your application memorable.
Look for organizations you identify with
As you apply to merit scholarships, try to find ones offered by organizations that you have a connection with. For example, you could apply for scholarships from a brand whose product you use, or a community organization for your neighborhood.
Organizations are looking to grant scholarships to students who align with their mission. Your essays and applications will be more compelling if you can demonstrate that you will represent the organization well once you receive your education.
Choose the right colleges
One of the biggest mistakes students make when building their college list is not paying enough attention to merit scholarships. As a rule of thumb, you want to identify colleges where your admissions “stats” align with the percentage of students winning merit scholarships. So, if a college offers merit scholarships to 25% of applicants, you should be in the top 25% of applicants as far as test scores and GPA.
Further reading: How to choose a college
Research the specific scholarships
College merit scholarships can vary from college to college. At some schools, all admitted students are automatically considered for merit scholarships.
At other colleges, students will need to complete an essay, separate application, or interview as part of the scholarship application process. Some colleges will even offer merit scholarships for students who have a specific talent in art, music, theater, or another area.
Cast a wide(ish) net
If you are serious about winning a merit scholarship at a specific college, you will need to cast a wide net. While being towards the top of the applicant pool will generally make you a strong candidate for merit scholarships, there are no guarantees.
This is why we recommend that you apply to 10 colleges where you will be seriously competitive for merit scholarships. This will increase your odds of having a few merit scholarship offers to choose from.
Mind your deadlines
Some colleges will ask students to apply by a specific deadline to be eligible for merit scholarships. Make sure that you are applying by the necessary deadlines (remember, this deadline may be different than the admissions deadline).
Don’t forget to apply for need-based financial aid too
Remember, you can apply for both merit scholarships and need-based financial aid! Make sure that you submit your FAFSA and any other required financial aid documents such as the CSS Profile by the necessary deadline.
This will ensure that you are being considered for all potential scholarships–merit and need-based–at the colleges on your list.
Seek out local scholarships
Local scholarships are oftentimes your most promising option when it comes to merit scholarships. Because the applicant pool is typically smaller, each entry has a better chance to win. Make sure that you look into local organizations as a major part of your scholarship search.
Oftentimes, your high school guidance counselor will have some resources for finding local scholarships. You can also try looking at organizations such as your local chapter of the Scouts or asking any community leader. Religious institutions, community centers, and 4-H clubs may be able to help.
Try our scholarship search tool
To make sure that you are considering all the available possibilities, try out our free scholarship search tool to get custom-matched, vetted scholarships brought to you daily. These include merit scholarships, need-based scholarships, and combinations of the two.
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Frequently asked questions about merit scholarships
What is a good GPA for a merit based scholarship?
Do merit scholarships take into account financial need?
Do I need to renew merit scholarships?
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