Merit Scholarships

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What is a Merit Based Scholarship?

Merit scholarships are free funds that pay for school. Most providers offer merit scholarships to students who have high grades, athletic ability or artistic talent.

Like need based awards, you don’t have to repay the money. So, the more prestigious awards tend to assess skills and qualities. Ones that impress are an ability to lead, debate, and serve the community.

Who Qualifies for a Merit based Scholarship?

Anyone who places in the top 10 percent of their class may qualify for an academic scholarship. That said, to narrow the competition there may be other terms to meet.

Some criteria limit applicants to specific groups. You may receive scholarships as a first generation students, Eagle scout, or based on your ACT score.

Many providers also take financial need into account. The level of need varies as it’s based on the FAFSA which verifies family income.

What GPA, SAT and ACT Scores do you Need?

An above average GPA, strong SAT and ACT scores may qualify you for a merit scholarship. Right now, the average college GPA is 3.15 or B grade. Having these grades may help you get 3.0 GPA scholarships so don’t lose hope.

Yet merit based scholarships tend to be for high achievers. So many providers look for people who score (well) above 3.5 GPA. This translates to a 90% average or A grade. There are even scholarships that set the bar above this to attract the brainiest minds. A 3.7 GPA, for e.g. signals most of the grades you got were A’s.

How Do You Win a Merit based Scholarship?

Once you set your sights on a merit based scholarship, boost your success with these tips. 

1. Apply Early

Many awards are competitive and applying for them takes time. You’ll often have to gather transcripts, records and letters of reference. Plus, many ask you to write a detailed and clear essay about your goals. Leave time for these steps so you come off as organized and focused.

2. Keep Your Grades Up

Look for awards you qualify for based on your skill sets, grades, and test scores. As a rule, focus on getting your grades in their best shape. Also keep in mind, that getting a merit award is only half the battle. You win really big if you get an award to use at the schools you want to get into. 

3. Take Active Steps

Being a high achiever, volunteer, athlete or artist takes steady effort. And it’s that consistency that many providers look for. Any times you fall short of your goals, you can tackle these issues before they snowball. To take active measures, it may be useful to meet teachers, coaches and your guidance counselor on a regular basis. Not only can this ensure you stay on track, it also builds a network of possible references.

4. Plan to Ace the ACT/SAT

Standardized test scores and grades may hold the key to a merit scholarship. Many students don’t do as well as they hoped because of test day jitters and lack of a prep plan. Learn and prep (a lot) for the ACT and SAT tests. To do this, you must understand the material, how long to study and solid practices for the day itself.

5. Find Good Matches

Even if you meet the criteria, not all scholarships you see are ideal fits. To search with more purpose, you might use the Scholarship match quiz. It uses an algorithm to match you with the perfect colleges for your interests and aims. Once you have your list, send in a complete package on or by the due date.

What Types of Merit Scholarships Can You Apply to?

As long as you meet the criteria, you can apply for a merit scholarship. Rules about who is eligible vary. So, our team put together a list of different types of merit awards to get you started.

ACT Scholarships

Many colleges award scholarships based on your ACT scores.  The ACT is a college admissions test. It tests your skills and knowledge of four areas. Math, science, English and reading. Adding the scores of each section gives a scaled score of from 1 to 36. As a rule, more selective providers look for high scores.

One example is the CIA Undergraduate Scholarships. You may be eligible if you have a 21 ACT score or higher and meet other rules. If selected, you get up to $18,000 per year for tuition. Or, if you are a STEM major, up to $25,000 per year. The awards also come with a contract to work for the CIA on summer breaks. You need to work 1.5 times the length of your scholarship to keep the funds.

Community Service Scholarships

If you volunteer, you may qualify for a community service scholarship. Community service is about giving back through unpaid efforts. They are most often available through nonprofits. One example is Their award programs foster more awareness about issues such as voter registration or stress management.

Eagle Scouts Scholarships

As an Eagle Scout, you have the highest rank, and this may qualify you for scholarships. A main provider of these awards is the Boy Scouts of America. BSA offers three types of Eagle Scout Scholarship. Academic, merit and field study. Amounts range from $2,000 to $50,000. To qualify, you need a mix of good grades, active Scouting, and service. You must be a member of the National Eagle Scouts of America.

First Generation Scholarships

Are you the first in your family to go to college? As a first scholar, you may qualify for scholarships. Some of the places to look for first gen scholarships are colleges. Saint Mary’s First Generation Scholars Program is an example. You might also find them through businesses and nonprofits. To qualify, many look at unmet financial need.

GPA Scholarships

Your grade point average (GPA) may help you qualify for scholarships. Many providers use the GPA as a metric for merit. They then set an acceptable range on the 4.0 scale. As mentioned, many merit awards go to students with a 3.5 to 4.0 GPA. But there are others for students with a 3.0 or lower. One to check out is the Straight A Scholarship. It is available through the Anthony Munoz Foundation and pays up to $5,000.

Leadership Scholarships

If you lead a sports team or even act as a mentor, you may qualify for scholarships. Leadership scholarships value efforts that help people and communities. So, a good place to look for them are nonprofits. One example is the CIRI Foundation. Their goal is to foster self sufficiency among Alaska Natives. Each year, they offer merit scholarships. The awards value civic activities, grades and people who help out.

National Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholars Program is a well known national competition. About 1.6 million high school students enter it each year. To be eligible, there are a series of requirements in order to qualify.

High school students must take the PSAT /NMSQT tests. About 50,000 students with high scores qualify for the program.  Some become commended students and semifinalists. From here, about 15,000 will advance on to become finalists. Every finalist competes for a National Merit $2,500 scholarship. There are also corporate and college sponsored awards.

Which Colleges Offer Merit Scholarships?

Many public and private colleges offer merit scholarships. University of Vermont and Cooper Union award merit scholarships depending on GPA, test scores and other criteria.

One of the public schools with a few merit based scholarships is the University of Vermont. It is located in Burlington, it serves 13,395 undergrads. Tuition at UVM is $18,802 for in state students and $42,516 for out of state. Their acceptance rate is 71%. The average first year student has a 3.7 GPA. SAT and ACT score ranges for the middle 50% of admitted students are: SAT (EBRW) 610 – 700, (Math) 590 – 710, and ACT 28 – 33.

To help you pay for school, UVM runs a few scholarship programs. The Presidential Scholarship is one. It is for first year undergrads who are out of state residents (or international).

Presidential Scholars receive a four year (8 semester) merit scholarship. Amounts range from $17,000 to $20,000 per year. To keep it going, you need a GPA of 3.0. Students must enroll in 12 credits or more per semester.

If you prefer a private and smaller size school, there are options too. One is Cooper Union, a private nonprofit college. Located in NYC, it has 858 undergrads.

Tuition at Cooper is $46,700 per year. But every admitted full time undergrad receive a half merit tuition scholarship of $22,275. Admitted students may also receive other merit scholarships. Eligible Cooper Union students must meet the GPA range set by each program. Reported test scores are: SAT (EBRW) 600 to 680, (Math) 580 to 680, and ACT 24 to 33.

According to the NCES, total cost varies by the kind of school you pick. Other factors like where you live (on or off campus) can also impact your finances. To give you an idea, here are some costs for the years 2018 – 2019 based on NCES data.

Four year colleges (on campus costs). Average costs are $24,900 (public), $33,200 (private for profit), and $51,900 (private nonprofit).

Two Year colleges (off campus costs). Average costs are $18,300 (pubic), $30,100 (private for profit), and $32,900 (private nonprofit).

Why is it Beneficial to Apply for Scholarships?

Merit scholarships are a better option than taking out a loan. And, with no strings attached, scholarships can help you pay for a college which may be a financial burden. You should consider these benefits of applying for a scholarship:

  • If you don’t qualify for need based aid according to your family’s income level, you might qualify for merit aid.
  • You might attract scholarships if you apply to schools where you rank in the top 25% of your class.
  • Merit awards may cover entire tuition for four years or be a one time award for one year.
  • A merit award may add value to your resume or CV.

10 High Award Scholarships

  1. National National Eagle Scout Association STEM Scholarship
  2. American University National Achievement and National Merit Scholarship
  3. AXA Achievement Scholarship
  4. CIRI Special Excellence Award
  5. Coca Cola Scholarship Program
  6. CIA Undergraduate Scholarship Program
  7. Women Techmakers Scholars Program
  8. Straight A Scholarship
  9. SHPE Chevron Scholarship

These merit scholarships are ranked by highest award amount.

List of Merit Scholarships