All You Need To Know About Merit Aid Scholarships

If you are looking for scholarships to ease the financial burden of college costs, merit-based scholarships are the ones that put the student in control the most in terms of eligibility. Read on to get more details on merit-based aid or scholarships for college.

What Are Merit Scholarships?

Merit scholarships are exactly that - scholarships given to students based on merit. These are financial awards used to pay for education expenses based on performance or achievement given to eligible students. Some of the most common ones, and the ones we are probably more familiar with, are those based on academic excellence or academic achievements or those scholarships given to students with exceptional athletic ability.

Beyond these common notions of what they are, merit-based scholarships may also be given to students that show exceptional skill or talent in other areas of school, like artistic talent, leadership roles, community service, and other factors that make the student exceptional or stand out among his peers or meet a certain criteria.

Just like any other scholarship, college merit scholarships are basically financial awards or aid given to students that do not need to be paid back, unlike loans. Like we mentioned earlier, the good thing with merit-based scholarships is that they can be obtained by any student. It is not based on financial status or need like grants or need-based scholarships, nor are they based on other factors students have no control over like race, ethnicity, parents' background, and other similar circumstances. Getting merit-based aid is basically based on student performance, and all the student needs to do to be eligible is for example maintain a GPA, or be in the top percentile or rank of his or her batch, or reach a certain ACT or SAT test score, or show exceptional athletic or artistic ability, or display great leadership or community service skills. You as a student can control whether you can qualify for the merit scholarship by being focused and dedicated to a certain aspect of school and by being exceptional in it.

What Are the Types of Merit Scholarships?

While merit-based aid or scholarships sounds self-explanatory, there are general types or forms of merit aid that exist as scholarships for students to try and obtain.

Colleges and universities award these scholarships to graduating high school students to attract highly qualified students to attend their school. Religious, ethnic, cultural, or community organizations award these to show support to talented individuals within their organization. While the federal government does not provide merit scholarships, these are also provided by state or local governments to eligible students. Private organizations and foundations also award merit scholarships to eligible students.

1. Academic Scholarships

Academic merit scholarships are one of the most common types of scholarships that exist in relation to getting merit aid. Aside from athletic scholarships, they are the ones that first come to mind when we talk about merit.

These are awarded to school students who achieve academic success or maintain excellent grades. These are usually students who have displayed academic excellence whether by getting a high grade point average, being a straight-A student, by getting high standardized test scores such as in the SAT or ACT, or remarkable course loads (such as AP Scholars With Distinction for students in college). Once the college students are enrolled, they are usually required to maintain a level of academic excellence to remain eligible for the scholarship if it is renewable.

2. Athletic Scholarships

One other famous form of merit scholarships are athletic scholarships. These are given to students who have displayed athletic excellence or great athletic ability in a certain sport. Usually, the colleges themselves offer these scholarships to the prospective student athletes so they can play for these schools at the college level and must participate in relevant college athletics to maintain eligibility for the scholarship. Outside of the school itself, individuals can reach out to their coaches or local organizations for athletic scholarship opportunities.

3. Arts Scholarships

Arts scholarships are merit aid given to students who display exceptional gifts or talents in any of the arts, such as in music, visual art, photography, film, sculpture, dance, painting, writing, or some other art form. These usually require a portfolio from the student pursuing this scholarship.

4. Other Merit-Based Scholarships

There are a lot of other forms of merit scholarships available for eligible students.

One of these is the community service scholarship given to students who are very active in community service involvement such as through extraordinary volunteer efforts. Related to this are leadership scholarships given to students who take on community roles and display leadership potential or leadership skills.

Another form of merit scholarship is given though extracurricular involvement or by joining and being active in notable extracurricular activities.

Some groups related to the intended college major such as medicine, engineering, natural sciences and more may also give merit-based aid to pay for the cost of college for eligible students. This may also be possible with some special interests such as certain remarkable hobbies, where invested groups or organizations may provide merit-based aid.

There are a lot of other forms of merit-based scholarships which are available as long as the student is eligible for them, but these are the generally more common types that exist.

What Are Some Merit Scholarship Programs You Can Apply To?

Aside from the merit aid that the colleges or universities themselves offer to incoming college students, here are some sample college-bound merit scholarships that you can apply to.

Deadline: Closed, opens in August, 2022

Award Amount: $20,000

​The Coca-Cola Scholars Program scholarship is an achievement-based scholarship awarded to graduating high school seniors. Students are recognized for their capacity to lead and serve, as well as their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities. With the 33rd class in 2021, the Foundation has provided over 6,450 Coca-Cola Scholars with more than $75 million in educational support. 150 Coca-Cola Scholars are selected each year to receive this $20,000 scholarship.​​​

Eligibility Details:

  • Current high school (or home-schooled) student attending a school in the U.S. (or select DoD schools) who will graduate during the current academic school year.
  • U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Permanent Residents, Refugees, Asylees, Cuban-Haitian Entrants, or Humanitarian Parolees - based on the guidelines utilized by U.S. Department of Education for Federal Financial Aid eligibility.
  • Expecting to receive high school diploma during current academic year.
  • Planning to pursue a degree at an accredited U.S. post-secondary institution .
  • Able to verify a minimum overall B/3.0 GPA in high school coursework .  

Deadline: Closed, usually opens in Fall

Award Amount: $20,000

The Foot Locker Scholar Athletes program honors student-athletes who demonstrate exceptional academic ability and strong leadership skills in sports, in their schools, and within their communities.

Eligibility Details:

  • Be entering college in the Fall of the coming academic year as a Freshman at a four-year school for an undergraduate degree.
  • Be currently involved in high school sports, intramural sports, or community based sports.
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.0.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident (you will be asked to prove citizenship and age if you win).
  • Not be an employee, officer or director of Foot Locker, Inc., or any of its subsidiaries, or a member of the immediate family of such an employee, officer or director.

Deadline: Closed, usually opens in October

Award Amount: $2,500 for National Merit

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and college scholarships that began in 1955. United States high school students enter the National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which serves as an initial screen of over 1.5 million entrants each year, and by meeting published program entry and participation requirements. Usually around 16,000 students with the highest scores in all 50 states are named semifinalists. These students then receive scholarship application packets and must meet certain academic requirements to advance to the finalist level. Winners are then chosen based on accomplishments and skills.

Eligibility Details:

  • Be enrolled as a high school student (traditional or homeschooled), progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school by 2023, and planning to accept admission to college no later than the fall of 2023.
  • Attend high school in the United States, District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealths and territories; or meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States.
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern

Deadline: April 15, 2022; Usually opens early January of the year.

Award Amount: $10,000

Established in 2001 by author T.A. Barron, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment.

Eligibility Details:

  • Between the ages of 8 and 18 (not yet age 19).
  • Permanent residents of and currently residing in the U.S.A. or Canada.
  • Currently working on an inspiring service project or have done so within the past 12 months.
  • Working as an individual to lead their service work. The Barron Prize does not accept applications from large groups of young people.
  • The Barron Prize does not discriminate against its applicants based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

Deadline: August 31

Award Amount: $5,000

The James W. Lewis Global Leader Scholarship has been established to encourage and recognize young leaders who exemplify the values to which Mr. Lewis has dedicated his life and work.

Eligibility Details:

  • High school sophomores, juniors, or seniors with a minimum 3.5 GPA or higher.

Deadline: September 9

Award Amount: Varies - pays for up to the four-year college entire tuition including books and fees.

The Cameron Impact Scholarship is a four-year, full-tuition, impact-driven undergraduate scholarship awarded annually to 10-15 exceptional high school students who have demonstrated excellence in leadership, community service, extracurricular activities, and academics. The Cameron Impact Scholar is unique among their peers in their desire to directly impact their communities and in the world at large. Our Scholar aspires to contribute to positive forces for change and plans to tailor their education to that end. The Cameron Impact Scholarship covers the full tuition, fees, and books at any accredited U.S. based college or university that the recipient chooses to attend.

Eligibility Details:

  • Maintain a minimum, cumulative, unweighted GPA of a 3.7/4.0 scale or equivalent in their high school studies.
  • Be a full citizen of the United States of America.
  • Be in the high school graduating Class of 2023, planning to enroll in a full-time course of study towards a degree at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university for the full academic year following high school graduation.
  • Show proven excellence in extracurricular activities, be motivated leaders with a strong work ethic, demonstrate active participation in community service and/or civic minded arenas.

Deadline: May 15

Award Amount: $1,000

The AGL Over the Rainbow Foundation is proud to announce the Blooming Artist Award sponsored by Ronald and Patti Loveless. The Blooming Artist Award is an annual $1000 Scholarship gifted to a high school fine arts student who continues their education at a college level, who exhibits a love for their craft and a dedication to their community.

Eligibility Details:

  • Applicants must be an upcoming high school graduates who are entering college to study Fine & Performing Arts.
  • Applicants must submit a short video or sample of their highlighted performances or artwork, a resume of their musical, theatre, art, or chorus background and three letters of reference from teachers.
  • Applicants must also provide a copy of the acceptance letter from the college they will be attending in the fall.

Award Amount: $5,000 per eligible year.

The Dr. Francis Anthony Beneventi Medical Scholarship is a $5,000 award given to one student either attending or planning to attend an approved, accredited medical school, college, or university.

Eligibility Details:

  • Applicant should be a student either attending or planning to attend an approved, accredited medical school, college, or university.
  • The applicant must be a United States (US) citizen. Proof of US citizenship includes the following documents: a US birth certificate, a current US passport, or government-issued naturalization papers.
  • The applicant must have a minimum GPA of 3.25.
  • This scholarship is not automatically renewable; however, recipients may reapply for consideration each year for up to four consecutive years, pending receipt of proof of continued enrollment (no pre–med, veterinarian, or physician assistant), and after the first semester, an annual transcript review indicating a minimum GPA of 3.25.

Deadline: April 30

Award Amount: $750

The SAPA Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA) in 1999. The SAPA Scholarship and Excellence in Education for Life Sciences Foundation is dedicated to recognize and support excellence on the part of outstanding high school students, and to encourage the finest high school graduates to develop careers in Life Sciences.

Eligibility Details:

  • Applicant must be a United States citizen, or a legal resident alien.
  • Applicant must be planning to attend a full-time college, university or institution of higher education for the advancement of academics in life sciences.
  • This competition is open to high school seniors. (There is no age limit.) Applicants must have a minimum SAT 1350 or ACT 30 and 3.0 GPA.

Are There Better Ways to Get Merit Aid Scholarships?

There are definitely much, much more merit scholarships of different kinds available for you to go for. The colleges and universities you apply to mostly offer merit aid from the schools themselves, maybe some community or organization you or your family are affiliated with offers merit aid, or the state or local government may also offer merit-based aid. If that's not enough, you can also look at the numerous online scholarship directories where a lot more specific merit-based scholarships are listed. However, what is important is there are certain tips to help you better get and maximize the merit-based aid you can obtain towards paying for your college cost of attendance.

A Notable Amount of Merit Aid Comes from the Colleges and Universities Themselves

Like we mentioned earlier, the colleges themselves may offer merit-based aid to attract highly qualified and exceptional students. When looking at schools for college education, don't be afraid to ask their college admissions office about what financial aid awards and options they offer. Even if the acceptance letter comes with a scholarship offer, don't be afraid to ask if there are any additional awards.

Don't forget to compare the net cost of attendance with all scholarships, grants and other financial aid factored in when selecting a college. Sometimes, the school with the highest cost of tuition may offer very high or attractive merit aid awards, such as if you are able to maintain a high GPA.

Apply to Schools Where You Rank High Academically

One way to increase your chances of getting offered very competitive and attractive merit aid packages is by applying to schools where your grades will put you in the top 10% of applicants or within the top 25th percentile of test scores. This will make you stand out easier and make the school try to lure you by offering merit aid.  

Apply Early

Don't assume just because you have the greatest credentials schools will automatically fall over trying to entice you with scholarships. Make your college list early and collect information and look at the requirements of each school both with regards to the actual application and with regards to getting merit aid.

This will give you enough time to get organized, and gather any requirements such as transcripts, records, letters or documents. There may be additional requirements for any merit aid you will apply for so starting early will give you enough time to make sure you are submitting the requirements properly.  

Look at As Many Merit Aid Options As Possible

Like we said, there are so many sources of merit-based aid that you can apply to help with college funding. Do not settle for just going for a few if you have time to look for and apply to more. Even if the college you are going to offers a nice financial aid package, try to look for more until you are able to cover as much of the cost of college as possible.

There are many merit scholarships which may have additional eligibility criteria that become advantageous to you, such as if you're a member of a specific minority, organization, or more. Take the time to look for these as they may provide the additional funding for college you need to help lower costs or even make your college education free!

Organize Your Merit Aid and Other Scholarships

When applying to college and going after a lot of merit scholarships, or even other types of scholarships, it can get quite confusing once you have so many you are applying to. You can use our Scholarship Organizer to keep track of all the deadlines, award amounts, and details and help yourself either narrow down which ones you want to focus on or make sure you don't miss out on any of these scholarships.

If you're too busy to look for more scholarships, or looking at each scholarship eligibility criteria is too confusing and time consuming, then our Personalized Scholarship Search would be of huge assistance to you. Get a curated list of scholarships that you meet all the requirements for. All you'll have to do is to apply to them - saving you lots of time.

About the Author

Christen is the founder of Hive Education. She is passionate about helping families navigate the college application and admissions processes. She helps students set goals to work towards their own debt-free degrees with her personalized scholarship searches, scholarship courses, and by sharing her scholarship strategies that won her over $900,000 in for her own college education. With four years of experience in higher education, two years working with teens in inner city high schools in New Orleans, and starting her first college consulting company during a pandemic in 2020 she strives to make college accessible for everyone, especially for first generation, low income, and minority students. In her spare time she loves to share her love for books with her daughters. You can find her on Facebook.

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