What Is a Merit-Based Scholarship?

A merit-based scholarship is a type of financial aid awarded to students based on their academic, athletic, artistic, or other achievements. Unlike need-based scholarships, which are awarded based on a student's financial need, merit-based scholarships are awarded based on the student's individual merits and accomplishments. The selection process for merit-based scholarships often involves a rigorous application and review process, including evaluation of academic performance, test scores, extracurricular activities, essays, and letters of recommendation.

What Do Merit Scholarships Pay For?

Merit scholarships typically provide financial assistance to cover a variety of education-related expenses. These may include:


Merit scholarships may cover all or a portion of the tuition costs of a college or university. This can significantly reduce the overall cost of attendance for a student.

Room and board

Some merit scholarships may also cover the costs of room and board, which includes housing and meals while attending college or university.

Books and supplies

Merit scholarships may provide funds to cover the costs of textbooks, supplies, and other educational materials required for academic coursework.


Merit scholarships may cover various fees associated with attending college or university, such as application fees, technology fees, and other administrative fees.

Travel expenses

Some merit scholarships may also provide funds to cover travel expenses for students who are studying in a different state or country.

It's important to note that the coverage and amount of merit scholarships can vary widely depending on the specific scholarship program and institution. It's essential to carefully review the terms and conditions of each merit scholarship to understand exactly what expenses are covered and what the scholarship entails.

What Are Merit-Based Scholarships Based On?

Merit-based scholarships are based on a variety of factors, depending on the specific scholarship program. Common criteria for merit-based scholarships include:

Academic Performance

Many merit-based scholarships are awarded to students who have demonstrated exceptional academic achievements, such as high grades, test scores, and class rankings. These scholarships may be based on a student's overall GPA, specific subject area performance, or other academic criteria.

Leadership and Extracurricular Activities

Some merit-based scholarships consider a student's involvement in extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and community service. Students who have demonstrated leadership skills, initiative, and engagement in their school or community may be eligible for scholarships based on these criteria.

Talent or Skill

Merit-based scholarships may also be awarded to students who excel in a particular talent or skill, such as music, arts, athletics, writing, or other specialized areas. These scholarships may require submission of a portfolio, audition, or other evidence of talent or skill level.

Personal Achievements or Awards

Some merit-based scholarships may consider a student's personal achievements, awards, or honors earned outside of the classroom, such as recognition for academic, athletic, or community achievements.

Other Factors

Depending on the scholarship program, there may be additional criteria considered, such as a student's background, ethnicity, field of study, career goals, or financial need. It is important to carefully review the specific requirements of each scholarship program to determine the criteria on which it is based.

It's worth noting that different scholarships have different eligibility requirements and selection criteria, so it's important to thoroughly research and understand the specific criteria for each scholarship program you are interested in applying for. Meeting the criteria and providing strong evidence of your qualifications can greatly increase your chances of being awarded a merit-based scholarship.

Who Awards Merit Scholarships?

Merit scholarships can be awarded by a variety of organizations, including colleges and universities, private foundations, corporations, and government agencies. Some examples of well-known merit scholarships include the Gates Millennium Scholarship, the Coca-Cola Scholars Program, and the National Merit Scholarship Program. Additionally, many schools offer their own merit scholarships to attract and reward high-achieving students.

Why Schools and Organizations Offer Merit Scholarships

Schools and organizations offer merit scholarships for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, merit-based scholarships can help attract high-achieving students to their institution or program. By offering scholarships to top-performing students, schools can increase their reputation for academic excellence and attract more applicants in the future.

Secondly, organizations may offer merit scholarships to support their mission or values. For example, a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting women in STEM fields may offer scholarships to female students who excel in math and science.

Lastly, merit-based scholarships can also serve as a way for schools and organizations to give back to their community and support students who demonstrate exceptional skills and talents.

Combining Merit Scholarships

In some cases, students may be able to combine multiple merit scholarships from different sources to cover the full cost of their education. However, this is not always possible or guaranteed. It ultimately depends on the policies and restrictions of the individual scholarship providers. Students should carefully review the terms and conditions of each scholarship they receive and communicate with the scholarship providers to determine if combining scholarships is an option. Additionally, some schools may have restrictions on how much merit aid a student can receive in total, regardless of the number of scholarships they have been awarded.

Where to Find Merit Scholarships

There are various resources to find merit-based scholarships. Here are some places to start:

College and University Websites

Check the websites of the colleges and universities you are interested in attending. Many schools offer merit-based scholarships to attract high-achieving students.

Scholarship Search Engines

Websites like Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and Cappex allow you to create a profile and search for scholarships that match your qualifications.

Professional Organizations

Many professional organizations offer scholarships to students who plan to enter their field.

Community Organizations

Local organizations such as chambers of commerce, foundations, and nonprofits often offer scholarships to students in their community.

High School Counselors

Your high school counselor can be a valuable resource for finding merit scholarships. They may have information about local scholarships or can guide you in the right direction.

Employer and Parent Organizations

Some employers and parent organizations offer scholarships for employees or children of employees.

Remember to research the scholarship requirements carefully and make sure you meet all qualifications before applying.

Merit-Based Awards from Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities often offer merit-based scholarships to attract high-achieving students to their institution. These scholarships can range from a few thousand dollars to full tuition and may be renewable for multiple years based on academic performance. Merit scholarships are typically awarded based on a combination of factors, including high school GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and leadership experience.

Some colleges and universities automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships, while others require a separate application or essay. It's important to research the specific requirements and deadlines for each institution's merit scholarships.

In addition to institutional merit scholarships, many colleges and universities offer departmental scholarships for students pursuing specific majors or areas of study. These scholarships may require an additional application or interview and are often competitive.

It's also worth exploring external merit-based scholarship opportunities offered by organizations, foundations, and corporations. These scholarships may have specific eligibility criteria, such as geographic location, field of study, or extracurricular involvement. Scholarship search engines, such as Fastweb and Scholarships.com, can be useful resources for finding external merit-based scholarships.

Tips for Applying

Here are some tips for applying for merit-based scholarships:

Start early

Begin your scholarship search early and make a list of potential scholarships you are interested in. Keep track of application deadlines and requirements to ensure you have plenty of time to complete everything.

Research the organization

Before applying, research the organization that is offering the scholarship to learn about their values and goals. This can help you tailor your application to their specific criteria.

Pay attention to details

Make sure you follow all application instructions carefully and provide all the necessary documentation. Double-check your application before submitting to ensure accuracy.

Highlight your achievements

In your application, showcase your accomplishments, academic achievements, and extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership, community involvement, and academic success.

Tailor your application

Customize your application for each scholarship you apply to. Emphasize your relevant experiences and achievements that align with the scholarship's goals and requirements.

Ask for letters of recommendation

Request letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or other professionals who can speak to your abilities and achievements.


Proofread your application materials thoroughly to avoid errors and ensure that your writing is clear, concise, and effective.

Apply for multiple scholarships

Don't limit yourself to one scholarship. Apply for as many scholarships as possible to increase your chances of receiving an award.

Should You Apply for Merit Scholarships?

It is generally a good idea to apply for merit scholarships if you meet the eligibility criteria and requirements, as they can help offset the cost of tuition and provide other benefits, such as recognition for academic achievement. It is important to carefully research and evaluate the requirements and application process for each scholarship to determine if it is a good fit for you. Additionally, be sure to apply to a range of scholarships to increase your chances of receiving an award.