Top College Merit Based Scholarships
Merit-based scholarships are one of the best ways for high school students to pay for college. These scholarships award academic excellence and can rage from a few thousand dollars up to a full ride scholarship. As a bonus, many college merit scholarships are renewable, which means that you can receive the scholarship for all four years of college!
In this guide, we will talk about how to win merit scholarships and share some of the top merit scholarship programs for prospective students!
Jump ahead to:
- What is a college merit scholarship?
- How to win a merit-based scholarship
- Top Merit-Based Scholarships
- Tips for applying to college merit-based scholarships
What is a merit scholarship?
A merit scholarship is a scholarship awarded to students who have a record of achievement in academics (including grades and test scores), extracurricular activities, and leadership in their community.
These scholarships can be awarded by specific colleges and universities, as well as private organizations.
Unlike need-based financial aid, merit scholarships do not take into account a student’s financial need as assessed through the FAFSA or CSS Profile. Instead, they are solely determined by a student’s academic achievement.
How to win a merit-based scholarship
The specific requirements of merit scholarships will vary from organization to organization. However, most merit scholarships will be assessing candidates according to the following factors:
- High school transcript including grades and the rigor of your high school classes
- Standardized test scores on the ACT or SAT
- Letters of recommendation
Top Merit-Based Scholarships
Merit scholarships can be awarded by both colleges and universities, as well as private organizations. Below, we have organized the top merit scholarships according to the various groups:
- Public Colleges & Universities
- Private National Universities
- Small Liberal Arts Colleges
- Private Merit Scholarships
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)
- Merit programs include the 1693 Scholars Program and the Monroe Scholars Program ($3,000 research stipend, special housing option)
- Several merit programs are offered, the largest and most prestigious of which is the President’s Scholarship
- The President’s Scholarship is “offered annually to about 50 incredible high-school seniors who have demonstrated superb leadership skills, are among the top few in their class in academic performance, and show promise of continuing such performance” (quote from the below link)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Scholarships at Private National Universities
- Offers a full-tuition 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)
- The Carnegie Scholarship is available to incoming freshman who qualify for little to no need-based financial aid
- Three separate merit programs offered: the CWRU Dean’s Scholarship, the Satcher-Pamies (merit scholarship for minorities), and the Alumni Scholarship (merit scholarship with a need component)
- 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
- Tulane offers some very generous full and partial tuition 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)
- Link: Merit Scholarships at Tulane University
- 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
- 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 theatre (Presidential Scholarships for Distinguished Achievement)
- 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 academic and also “contributions to the student’s school and home community.”
Private Merit Scholarships
- Eligibility: High school seniors
- Amount: Varies
- Deadline: December 15
- Eligibility: Class of 2020 high school seniors attending high school school in the USA
- Amount: $20,000
- Deadline: October 31
- Eligibility: Current high school seniors who are citizens of the United States are eligible to apply
- Amount: 500 awards worth from $4,000 to $5,000
- Deadline: November 5
- Eligibility: High-achieving United States citizens or legal residents in the 50 United States, Washington, D.C., or Puerto Rico who are seniors in high school planning on attending a two or four year college or university
- Amount: $2,500, $10,000 or $25,000
- Deadline: December 15
- Eligibility: Any student in grades 9-12 in the United States with academic achievement (scholarship selection is based on merit)
- Amount: $1,000 to 5,000
- Deadline: May 1, 2021
Tips for applying to merit-based scholarships
Here are six important things you need to know if you want to win a college merit scholarship:
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. Scattergrams are a great way to assess how your GPA and test scores stack up.
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.
Read the fine print about scholarship renewal
Certain schools might require you to submit evidence that you’re maintaining a certain GPA or meeting other requirements to remain eligible for your award.
It’s essential to stay on top of any continuing obligations to your school’s financial aid office.