What is Merit Scholarship and How to Get One

We are all aware that attending college is very expensive. But come to think of it, it is still possible for a student to study and pay himself through college, without having to pay through his nose.

Opportunities like merit scholarships, grants, and other financial programs are been provided to help students pursue their academic goals.

Most students turn to financial aid to help make the cost more manageable but, depending on the family’s income level, their options may be limited. Much financial aid, such as grants and several merits-based scholarships, are need-based.

This means some families might not be opportune to get such favor and could be disqualified from receiving such assistance due to their income, even if they are not capable to pay for their child’s education out of pocket.

While both need-based and merit scholarships provide college students with free money to assist in paying their school and other expenses. A merit scholarship is awarded based on the level of promise the student demonstrates, regardless of their financial status.

What Is a Merit Scholarship?

Merit scholarships are financial awards that help students pay for school. They’re one of the best forms of financial aid because they’re free money that you never have to pay back, often with few to no strings attached.

Typically, a merit scholarship is usually open to students who show a high level of achievement in specific areas, such as academics, athletics, or the arts.

A merit scholarship is a financial award that most students get regarding their academic success in high school. Merit-based scholarships are not only limited to a student’s grades but also consider factors such as leadership roles, ACT and/or SAT scores, extracurricular activities, and school or community involvement.

Unlike need-based financial aid, merit scholarships do not take into account the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

In most cases, merit-based scholarships can be of help by lowering or completely covering the cost of typical four-year college tuition.

Some scholarships for merit students are even awarded to cover multiple academic years based on continuing student performance and involvement.

Most generous financial aid awards come in the form of merit scholarships, which makes them particularly useful for students who fall into the gap of not being eligible to receive help as needed and unable to afford a college education.

The same merit grant can go to a student who lives below the poverty level with the same ease with which a student can go percent.

Merit-based scholarships for college students

Merit scholarships are usually open to colleges and universities, however, many companies, organizations, and foundations offer them as well.

This doesn’t mean that those with financial need can’t qualify for merit scholarships as well (they certainly can!), but it does provide one option for family’s whose income would preclude them from receiving need-based assistance.

Although not all, most scholarship programs are merit-based which means scholars are chosen based on academic merit or in others forms such as leadership, athletic, or artistic merits.

However, Merit-based scholarships are referred to as excellence scholarships since it seeks out the most bright and most talented students.

In this list, Worldscholarshipforum.com highlights the most popular scholarships for merit students.

Some Merit-Based Scholarships offered by Foreign Governments.

Some Merit-Based Scholarships offered by Global Universities.

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Easy Way of Getting A Merit Scholarship

There are two major sources of merit scholarships: The private organizations and colleges/universities themselves. The way you’d go about finding (and applying) for these scholarships depends on their source.

A merit scholarship can come from several sources, so there are likely more opportunities available than you’d initially realize.

Here are some of the most common places you can sort for scholarships for merit students.

Private Companies That Offers Merit-Based Scholarship

A variety of businesses may offer students merit scholarships majoring in a related field. This can be used as a recruitment method, as they will probably entice scholarship recipients to join their company upon graduation or to improve their public image.

Providing these awards, it is important to review any fine print to determine whether joining the business after graduation is a requirement.

University And Colleges

Merit scholarships are a very common recruitment technique at several colleges and universities. Many educational institutions want to bring in the best and brightest students they can seek out for as well as those who show exceptional talent in areas like sports, the arts, and even community involvement.

Sometimes, they offer scholarships to help promote diversity or improve enrollment in under-represented disciplines.

Merit Scholarship Option from Member Organization

Certain professional and educational organizations also offer merit-based scholarships to qualified students. These are made available to help promote the organization’s field. Also, to encourage students to acquire a degree based on the group’s area of expertise.

In general, member organizations want to have the highest level of professionals associated with their group.

Therefore, merit-based scholarship is a way to attract talented students to the field and, ultimately, to the organization.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation 

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation offers a variety of opportunities for merit-based scholarships for college students worldwide.

The competition for prizes is fierce since the organization receives approximately 1.6 million applications per year. However, it is a very prestigious award, so it is generally useful to request it.

Many, out of frustration, have settled for the average while some had to completely quit the pursuit of those dreams. This is painful and disheartening.

Not to worry, we are here to help.

How To Get a Merit Scholarship

Get ready to start seeking out your own scholarship money? Here are all the steps you should take to guide you if you want to optimize your chances of winning a merit award.

There is no difficulty nor fast rule regarding how to apply for scholarships for merit students. Like other scholarship programs, the organization offering these scholarships can set their own requirements and screening criteria.

When you identify a scholarship want to apply;

First, read the application instructions properly as outlined by the school, business, or organization. Next, follow all other instructions that follows.

Here is a list of how to get a Merit scholarship you should look out for.

#1. Start on Time: 

As stated earlier, you have to be in it for the long haul if you hope to qualify for some more competitive merit awards.

A typical merit award will ask for transcripts, records, or documentation going back to your freshman year of high school.

You need to show a pattern of consistent high-achievement or consistent improvement. This will be of help if you hope to come across as an interesting applicant.

#2. Choose your Focus:

As a young high school student, you need to start thinking about the type of award you are most likely to qualify. Are you trying to be a top-level student, a star athlete, a community service expert or some combination?

Merit awards are pretty useless if you can not use them at the schools you want.

#3. Be Proactive:

It is important to constantly demonstrate that you are an outstanding student (or athlete or volunteer) to be a candidate for the merit award. This means that you are responsible for handling any weaknesses in your performance before they become major problems.

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To be proactive, you can:

Consult teachers and trainers for additional help with tasks or problem areas.
Meet your counselor or college counselor regularly (maybe once every three months) to check college plans, grades, career goals, etc. This can also be useful if you need letters of authorization from your advisors later for scholarship applications.

#4. Get an ACT/ SAT Prep Plan:

Standardized test grades are often a big part of qualifying for merit scholarships. The earlier you start laying out a plan for preparing and taking either the ACT or the SAT, the better off you’ll be. To start formulating a plan, check out these guides:

  • Should you take the ACT or the SAT?
  • How long should you study for the ACT or the SAT?
  • ACT/SAT test dates and study plans
  • How to get a perfect score on the ACT or the SAT

#5. Find “Good Fit” Scholarships:

Not all the scholarships you are interested in will necessarily be appropriate, even if technically you meet all the eligibility criteria. The progress of scholarships will not be the only thing you can think of when you compile these applications, so it is important to use your time efficiently when choosing scholarships.

You can offer an infinite number of applications from a technical point of view, but you are likely to waste your time. Do not just want to apply for a prize or two prizes, keep applying for a set of scholarship numbers, so aim for 8-10 applications.

Think of it as if you were considering making progress towards universities: select some “access scholarships”, a few “security” and some “specific”. Use your strengths (such as academics, sports, community service) to choose the right scholarships (and cancel scholarships that do not fit your time).

For example, if you are at the top of your class but have only played JV level sports, you may not be the best provider of the prize for athletes.

#6. Submit Published Polished Applications:

As with your college applications, you only have one opportunity to make a good impression when you apply for merit scholarships (especially when it comes to more competitive prizes, where scholarship committees need to handle thousands of applications).

If possible, start preparing an initial list of scholarships at the beginning of the year for new students. This may seem a bit proactive, but keep in mind that many of the best scholarships are worth the end of the year.

This initial investigation will also help you stay on track to meet the requirements.

Start thinking seriously about your applications four months before they expire. This gives you time to request letters of recommendation (if any). It also gives you the opportunity to receive comments on article projects.

Finally, ask 2-3 trusted people to see your applications before sending them to verify clarity, typographical errors or missing information. Do not wait until the actual deadline for your application, you never know when you may have technical problems that may prevent transmission. It is best to schedule an application 3-5 days before the formal due date.

Top Merit-Based Scholarships

If you’re eager to begin researching merit awards, the following scholarships are a good place to start. You’ll find a list of some of the biggest pure merit scholarships, in addition to a list of merit + financial need-based scholarships.

For more comprehensive lists of top scholarship programs, check out our guides to the best scholarships available for high school juniors and seniors.

Things Merit Scholarships Can Pay For

How you can spend a scholarship can also vary from one organization to another. Some will provide funds directly to the college or university, so they are given their use for the study.

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However, depending on how the school manages its funds, it can also allow excessive funds to be directed to costs such as room, food, library purchases, and other internal expenses. It is also possible to return any surplus to an applicant.

In other means, money can be spent on almost anything. This money is for education (of course), but also for living expenses, such as room, food or almost anything else.

For instance, a student could use the money to purchase new gadgets such as a new computer for school, keep their car’s gas tank full and also pay their cell phone bill.

When the award is provided in cash, there are usually no restrictions on how the money can be spent as long as your student meets the terms of the merit scholarship, like staying in school.

Pure Merit Awards

  • National Merit Scholarship
  • Coca-Cola Scholarship
  • Ronald McDonald Scholarships

Merit And Financial Need Awards

  • Gates Millennium
  • Horatio Alger Scholarship Program
  • Jackie Robinson’s Foundation Scholarship Program
  • Engebretson Foundation Scholarship
  • Jack Kent Cook Foundation College Scholarship Program
  • Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Competition

Merit Scholarships And Income Taxes

Sadly, so many applicants are not clear on whether scholarships for merit students’ awards are taxable and like many other tax topics.

Also, scholarships are Tax-free as long as the following conditions apply.

  • Your student is a degree candidate and taking courses at an eligible educational institution (which generally includes colleges and universities with a regular faculty, set curriculum, and enrolled student body)
  • The funds are for expenses, like tuition, fees, books, and supplies
  • The money is not wages for teaching or other forms of work

If you are not sure that using a scholarship to pay certain expenses will be subject to taxes, it is best to consult a tax expert, as they can assess your particular situation and make a decision in accordance with applicable tax legislation.

Website To Find Scholarships for Merit Students

When searching for external scholarships at the official site, it is certainly worth looking for merit scholarships they can automatically qualify for if an applicant hasn’t already chosen their preferred university.

Merit-based scholarships for college students are one of the largest sources of funds for college, thereby making it possible to significantly reduce a student college bill, or also achieve a free ride.

Few Tips for Maximizing Merit Aid 

Apply where you rank high academically:

Applying to colleges where your grades put you in the top 10 percent of the student body can help. If you’re in the top quartile, there are good chance colleges will try to lure you with merit aid.


If you receive two or more admissions letters from several universities, some institutions may be willing to match a merit grant that you were offered by another university.

Compare net prices before choosing a college:

In most cases, the largest merit scholarships holds because the college have the highest net price due to higher tuition. Subtract grants and scholarships from the total cost of attendance (including additional expenses like tuition, fees, room, board, books, and transportation).

Acceptance rate:

Basically speaking, the more selective a school is, the more conservative it acts in distributing merit money. Lesser-known schools can have a higher acceptance rate and offer more merit scholarships, so be sure to consider a variety of options.


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