Merit scholarships award students who are accomplished in specific fields such as academics, sports, or an extracurricular activity. Sponsors assess solely on their achievements in a specific field. Not typically taken into consideration is financial status or need. If you’ve achieved a high level of proficiency in any field, think of this as a reward for your hard work.
Where to Look For Merit Scholarships
There are a number of ways to search for scholarships.
Start by checking with your counselor. They’ve been down this road before with countless other students through the years. They will be able to give you solid advice about where to look, how to look, and how to apply for scholarships.
Doing an internet search is another great way to find these rewarding opportunities. However, with a general search, the results can be overwhelming. You have to be strategic about your search so you don’t end up wasting precious time. One smart tip is to customize your search so you only get results that are relevant to your specific skills.
Don’t forget to ask around. Ask family and friends if they know of any unadvertised opportunities. Call the financial aid office and ask them directly. If they do offer merit scholarships, ask them about their eligibility criteria and application requirements.
Bulletin boards at public libraries post notifications about local businesses or individuals offering scholarships. These are generally less competitive as they are restricted to students from within the community. It’s worth checking bulletin boards at your public library or community center regularly.
Who Offers Merit Scholarships?
The most common sponsors of merit scholarships are higher education institutions, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, and professional organizations. There are several other sponsors but these three are the best places to start your search.
Higher Education Institutions
Most colleges and universities in the US offer merit scholarships. Different institutions have different reasons for offering these awards. Some use it as a recruitment strategy to attract the most talented students. This could be in any area – athletics, the arts, academics, or even community involvement.
Other colleges may offer merit scholarships to promote diversity or boost enrollment in majors that are underrepresented on their campus. One such example is merit scholarships for women who enroll in any STEM major. Female enrollment is historically low in STEM majors. This scholarship addresses both, the diversity and the underrepresented aspect.
Still others offer merit awards in honor of someone who contributed in some way to the institution.
The way the scholarships are offered also differs from one institution to another. Some colleges and universities offer these awards to all students who are accepted into their relevant programs. Others may require a separate application. These details are usually posted on the school’s website.
When looking for merit scholarships offered by schools, the most important thing to make a note of is the application deadline. If you miss the deadline during your first year, some colleges will not consider your application in future years either.
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation has been awarding merit scholarships to high school students since 1955. They offer various awards to students who meet their program entry and participation requirements.
The basic qualifying requirement to enter the National Merit Program is taking the PSAT/NMSQT test. Only students who have taken this test can apply for their scholarships. With an estimated 1.6 million applicants every year, the competition for this award is very high.
Students interested in applying to for a national merit scholarship typically take the PSAT/NMSQT test in their junior year in high school.
Professional companies establish merit scholarships to encourage talented students to pursue a degree in a related field. Their motive for offering this reward is to draw the brightest and best to the field. The ultimate aim is to entice award winners to join their organization after graduation. It also helps improve their public image.
It is important to read the fine print in detail. Some of these awards have the condition that you join the company after you graduate. This could restrict your employment opportunities post graduation. It could also create a problem if you decide to change your major.
3 Quick Merit Scholarship Tips
Knowing how to find merit awards and who offers them is just the beginning of the application process. These additional tips will help you hone the process and boost your chances of winning more free money towards college.
Start your search early
Finding relevant awards takes time. It takes even more time to put together a winning application. Also, some scholarships have earlier deadlines. It’d be a shame to lose out on an opportunity simply because you started your search too late. The earlier you start looking, the more time you’ll have to get it all together.
Look for less competitive scholarships
Merit scholarships in general tend to be fiercely competitive. Even if you’re not afraid of the competition, the reality is, the larger awards are tough to win. Increase your odds of winning some free money by looking for less competitive opportunities. Scholarships offered by local businesses are one such example.
Don’t overlook the smaller awards
You may feel it’s not worth the time to put together an application for a smaller award. But think about this – every dollar helps reduce that gap between college tuition and available finance. Also, these scholarships tend to be less competitive, which means you have a higher chance of winning them.
Whatever your skill or accomplishment, you’re sure to find a merit scholarship that you qualify for. You’ve worked hard to excel in your field. It’s time now to get rewarded for all that hard work you put in.