merit-based scholarships
merit-based scholarships

Between 2009 and 2019, the cost of attending college increased by more than 25%. This might leave you might feel discouraged by the high price tag associated with an undergraduate experience.

College these days does seem outrageously expensive. Many students don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to put towards tuition. However, there are also countless scholarships, grants, and loans that you can apply for to help fund your education.

Are you worried that you need-based financial aid won’t be enough to pay for your college? You might find that there are merit-based scholarships that you qualify for. These are scholarships that are awarded based on your talent, skills, or field of study.

Are you wondering what you need to know about merit-based scholarships and how to apply for one? Let’s take a look at everything you need to know.

What Are Merit-Based Scholarships?

Merit-based scholarships are awarded to individuals based on their excellence in a certain area. These scholarships don’t factor in your income or other financial factors when determining whether or not you will be awarded them. This means that students who excel in various ways can receive help paying for college.

These scholarships can make a big difference when it’s time for you to pay for college. When looking at the cost of college, make sure you look at all of associated fees and not just the sticker price.

The Different Types of Merit-Based Scholarships

Getting a merit-based scholarship doesn’t just have to be about your grades. That being said, you can get merit-based scholarships for your academic performance. Let’s take a look at the different types of these merit scholarships to help you understand whether or not you might qualify for one.

Scholarships are highly preferable to loans because they don’t have to be repaid. The same is true of grants.


Many merit-based scholarships are designed to reward students who excel academically. This type of scholarship often requires certain test scores or a minimum GPA.

One well-known scholarship organization is the National Merit Scholarship. They honor and recognize students across the United States for their excellence in academic subjects. This includes a scholarship for the student who has the highest composite scores out of the whole country for the PSAT/NSMQT exams.


Students who didn’t excel in the classroom aren’t necessarily out of luck when it comes to merit-based scholarships. If you were a superstar athlete, you also might be able to get some funding.

Athletic scholarships are a way to recognize students that have shown dedication and skill in a given sport. If you plan on playing a sport at the collegiate level, your school might offer you an athletic scholarship. There are other private organizations that might offer merit scholarships for athletes if you aren’t receiving funding from the school you’re attending.

The Arts

If you have artistic talent, there are thousands of scholarships that are designed to reward creativity and artistic excellence. Whether you’re an actor, an artist, or a musician, it’s worth looking around to see if you can find scholarships in your field.

You will usually need a portfolio in order to apply for this type of scholarship. You will therefore want to start putting your portfolio together ahead of time so you can turn it in before the deadline for the application.

Special Interest

There are a surprising number of special interest scholarships out there. You can even find them for topics such as veganism and duck calling. Be creative when you are trying to find funding for your college education, as your quirky hobby might actually help you pay for school!

Merit Scholarship Qualifications: What You Need to Know

Having strong SAT and ACT scores as well as an above-average GPA will certainly be necessary in order to qualify for academic merit-based scholarships. However, depending on the scholarship you are applying for, the minimum qualifications might be much more selective.

There are thousands of merit-based scholarships out there. Each of them has its own rubric for determining who is eligible. It’s worth researching your list of potential scholarships to see if you meet the grade and test score requirements.

While you might not get a merit-based scholarship that covers all of your costs, it can contribute greatly towards paying for college.

Who Offers Merit-Based Scholarships?

There are actually a number of different sources where you can get a merit-based scholarship. You might not realize just how many opportunities there are to get funding for your education.

Colleges and Universities

A common way that colleges and universities recruit top talent is with merit-based scholarships. It is the goal of many educational institutions to bring in the smartest and most capable students that they can find as well as those who show exceptional talent in areas like the arts and sports.

There are also merit scholarships that are offered to promote enrollment in underrepresented majors or to boost diversity. For example, you might find that some universities offer scholarships to women pursuing STEM majors.

Sometimes you can apply for merit-based scholarships from colleges and universities, but other times the school will offer these scholarships as a part of the process of accepting their application.

You can typically find details on the school’s website for scholarships that require applications. You’ll want to stay on top of the application dates for any scholarships you want to apply for so you don’t miss the opportunity.

Private Companies

There are also many businesses that offer scholarships for students that are planning to major in a field related to the business. This can be a way that businesses improve their public image or it can be a recruitment method.

It’s important to read the fine print of this type of scholarship. There might be a requirement that you work for the company for a period of time after you graduate from college. This might be great news for you, as you know that you have a job right off the bat, but you also might not like feeling hemmed in by this type of agreement.

Merit Scholarship Options from Member Organizations

You can also find merit-based scholarships offered by certain educational and professional organizations. The purpose of these scholarships are to promote the field of the organization and to encourage students to pursue degrees in this field.

This is used to help attract talented students to the field of study of the organization. It can also attract students who excel to pursue a career at the organization after they graduate from college.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation

For high school students across the country, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation offers a wide variety of scholarship opportunities. These are awarded largely based on the PSAT/NMSQT test results of students. For this reason, it’s essential to complete this exam in order to be considered.

PSAT/NMSQT tests are usually given during the junior year of high school. There is fierce competition for these scholarships. In fact, roughly 1.6 million applications are sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation every year.

It’s worth noting that students must take the PSAT/NMSQT version of the exam in order to qualify for these scholarships. Taking the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10 isn’t the same thing and will likely compromise your ability to receive this scholarship.

How Do You Get a Merit Scholarship?

There is no cookie-cutter way to get merit scholarships. There are different types of merit scholarships, different organizations that offer these scholarships, and different screening criteria for each scholarship.

The first step in getting merit scholarships is to research which scholarships you might be eligible for. It’s worth being a bit creative here and digging around the internet. You might find that you can piece together several smaller scholarships to make a significant debt in the cost of your college.

It’s important that you identify scholarships for which you meet all the minimum requirements. There are plenty of scholarships out there, and you will likely find that you’re wasting your time when you send in applications for scholarships that require a minimum GPA you don’t have or other such criteria.

Once you have identified scholarships that you’re interested in, it’s critical that you read the instructions thoroughly. Each application will likely have its own directions, and failing to follow the instructions as they are laid out could disqualify you.

When you are applying for colleges, it can feel frustrating to find that you need to fill out even more applications. However, if you are able to receive money for your education through the applications, you will find that it is time well spent.

The Components of Applications

There are a number of different possible components to applications depending on the scholarship you are applying for.

The first is an essay. It’s very common for scholarships to require essays.

It’s a good idea to start working on this part of your application early. This way you can have someone you trust look it over and give you feedback before you submit it.

The second are letters of recommendation. These aren’t always required, but if they are, they should come from teachers or supervisors who know you well. These are letters where your talents are being endorsed by someone in your field, whether it’s a teacher, coach, or employer.

You are also going to need your high school transcript in order to apply for scholarships. This is how the organizations or schools can see how well you did in school.

The next is a portfolio. This is certainly not always required, but it is pretty common when it comes to art scholarships. You will want to start putting your portfolio together well in advance of the deadline.

What Are the Best Merit-Based Scholarships?

Applying for merit scholarships is a way to be rewarded for your hard work, skills, and natural talents. For that reason, you will want to take an honest look at yourself when considering which scholarships to apply for. This way, you can direct your focus and energy on the awards you have the best chance of receiving.

You can find merit scholarships at public colleges and universities, private national universities, and small liberal arts colleges. Additionally, they are offered by some businesses and organizations. If you are interested in a specific school, first take a look to see if they offer any applicable merit-based scholarships.

Some schools offer more generous merit-based scholarships than others. Some state schools might focus on in-state students. Others offer scholarships to both in-state and out-of-state students.

It is worth taking the time to dig around and look at the scholarship opportunities at each of the schools you are considering applying to. You might find that a handful of them offer much more favorable scholarships. This can help you determine which schools are worth pursuing.

Some great merit-based scholarships from private organizations include:

  • The Burger King Scholars Program
  • The Elks Most Valuable Student Scholarship
  • The Visionary Scholarship

Coca-Cola also offers a scholarship in the amount of $20,000 for high school seniors in the United States.

Are You Looking for More Resources About Paying for College?

Paying for college can be complicated, frustrating, and downright overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together a library of resources to help you gain all the information you need about paying for college.

Are looking for information on merit-based scholarships or work-study programs? We’ve got you covered.

Are you considering applying for grants but aren’t quite sure what this type of award entails? Do you have to pay grants back? Check out this article to learn more.

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