What Are Merit Based Scholarships?

Merit based scholarships are a type of financial aid that’s not based on need. Instead, these scholarships are based on merit. They are awarded to students who excel in one or more areas of interest. For example, students can win them for their artistic talents, academic excellence, community involvement, or accomplishment in some extracurricular activity. 

There are several merit scholarships that are established and funded by various government and private organizations. These scholarships aim to reward students for their hard work and encourage them to continue their pursuit of excellence while also pursuing the next level of education. All applications are assessed solely on merit. 

Unlike regular scholarships, financial need is not taken into consideration when awarding merit based scholarships. However, like all other scholarships, award money won through merit-based scholarships doesn’t have to be returned. The winner can keep all the money they’ve won without worrying about having to pay interest or having to return it at a later date.

High school student working on an art piece to apply for a merit based scholarship

What Are The Criteria For Merit Based Scholarships?

Every organization sets its own specific criteria for its award, which may be different from other opportunities out there. Outstanding academic performance may be the sole criteria for some merit based opportunities. Others may also consider test scores and teacher recommendations in addition to academic grades.

Some merit scholarships are only open to students who have achieved some recognition in a certain field of study. This could be anything, from math and environmental science to music, dance, or drama. Still, others may be open to students who have demonstrated their capabilities in leadership roles or their involvement in community service. The requirements are truly diverse. 

In some cases, you may need to meet some other requirement to qualify for a merit-based opportunity. For example, in addition to your academic achievement, you may also need to be a resident in a specific state. Other merit-based scholarships may only be open to students belonging to a certain high school. Others may be open only to those belonging to a certain race, religion, gender, or some other demographic. A few organizations may also take financial need into account but this will usually be secondary to the merit criteria for these types of scholarships. 

Do GPA and SAT/ACT Scores Matter For Merit Scholarships

In most cases, they do. These awards are given out to high achievers. In addition to other criteria, most organizers will also consider your academic achievements when assessing your application. 

You will need an above average GPA and good SAT/ACT scores to qualify for most merit scholarships. The average college GPA to win a merit based scholarship is anywhere from 3.0 to 3.50. The higher your GPA the better your chances of winning merit based awards, especially for highly competitive scholarships. 

One thing to remember is that some opportunities offer one-time awards while others are recurring. If you win a recurring scholarship, you must maintain the minimum GPA requirement to receive the funds the following year. The award could be revoked if your GPA scores drop. 

Where to Find Merit Based Scholarships

Your counselor’s office is the best place to start your search. They look out for these opportunities and save the details to help deserving students win some free money for college. Get the details of all scholarships that you qualify for and start working on putting together personalized applications for each.

The internet is, of course, another great place to look for all types of scholarships, including those that are merit based. Tweak your search so you are not wasting time browsing through hundreds of opportunities that do not apply to you

When looking for merit-based scholarships, don’t forget to look nearer home. Many local organizations and private businesses establish scholarships to reward deserving students in their community. These scholarships are easier to win since the locality limits the applicant pool to community members only. You will find these opportunities in the local newspaper, your high school notice board, and community websites or newsletters.

Types Of Merit Scholarships You Can Apply To

It helps to understand what types of merit scholarships are available. This will make it easier for you to prioritize where to put in the most effort to increase your chances of winning. Here are some of the more common types of merit scholarships you can apply to. 

1. GPA Scholarships

Many colleges as well as government and private organizations offer GPA scholarships to reward deserving students. These awards are intended to recognize the students’ hard work and encourage them to pursue higher education. 

The acceptable GPA range for these awards is between 3 and 3.5. These are very competitive scholarships so the higher your GPA the better. You will also need to show excellence in one or more fields to beat the stiff competition. 

2. ACT Scholarships

The ACT is a standardized college admissions test. Many colleges use ACT scores as one of the criteria when assessing college applications. Several also earmark merit based scholarships to applicants with high ACT scores. Every college sets its own minimum ACT score and other qualifying requirements. If you’ve earned a strong ACT score but it doesn’t meet the minimum qualifying criteria for one college, don’t give up. Check out other colleges. Some may require a lower minimum ACT score to qualify.  

3. Community Service Scholarships

These scholarships are established to reward students who are committed to giving back to their community mainly through unpaid efforts. If you’ve spent time volunteering in any capacity, you may qualify to apply for a community service scholarship. One thing to remember is that occasionally helping out at a shelter or nursing home don’t count. You’ll need to demonstrate your commitment to community service to win a community service scholarship. This means volunteering regularly for an extended period of time. 

4. First Generation Scholarships

Being the first in your family to go to college is a major accomplishment. Institutions recognize the hard work that goes into achieving this milestone and set up scholarships to reward first-generation students. These awards aim to encourage students from underserved communities to aspire to higher goals. The goal is not to let a lack of funds get in the way of students reaching their full potential.

5. National Merit Scholarships

When discussing merit based opportunities, you cannot ignore the biggest one of them all – the National Merit Scholarship Program. Established by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, this program aims to recognize and reward academic achievement. Applying to this program is different from applying to any other merit scholarship.

You must take the PSAT in your junior year of high school for consideration for a National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT serves as a qualifying test for entry into the National Merit Scholarship competition. If your scores are high enough, you are automatically entered for scholarship recognition.

3 Quick Tips For Winning Merit-Based Scholarships

Boost your chances of winning one or more merit-based scholarships with these tips: 

  1. Be consistent in your efforts – Decide which field you’re going to focus your time and effort on. Is it GPA, ACT, athletics, volunteering, or some other accomplishment? Once you’ve decided, take active steps to be consistent and achieve some level of skill or recognition in that activity. 
  2. Keep those grades up – No matter which field you choose to focus your attention on, don’t do it at the cost of your grades. Grades are almost always going to be the number one criterion that organizers will look at when evaluating your application. 
  3. Shortlist opportunities and apply early – Researching merit based scholarships that you qualify for can take time. Starting early will give you plenty of time to unearth a few great scholarships. Shortlist the ones you qualify for and make a note of the deadline. Pay special attention to requirements in terms of transcripts, reference letters, records, and other supporting documentation. This can take time to put together. Make sure you give yourself ample time to gather together the required documents so you’re not rushing around last minute trying to get letters of reference. 

Merit-based scholarships serve as compelling motivation to work hard and earn excellent grades and test scores. Your reward – free money for your college tuition.

Use College Raptor to discover personalized college matches, cost estimates, acceptance odds, and more.


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