Merit-Based Scholarships

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What is a Merit Scholarship?

Merit scholarships are typically awarded to students with academic excellence, athletic, or artistic achievements. Many providers offer scholarships to students who have high grades, leadership roles, SAT/ACT scores, and involvement in community service.

Like need based awards, you typically don’t have to repay the money. So, the more prestigious awards tend to assess skills and qualities. Students should show an ability to lead, debate, and passion to serve the community.

Who Qualifies for a Merit Scholarship?

Eligible students who exhibit good grades, GPA, and test scores may qualify for an academic scholarship. That said, to narrow the competition there may be other terms to meet.

Some criteria limit applicants to specific groups. You may receive scholarships as a first generation students, Eagle scout, or based on your ACT score.

Many providers also take financial need into account. The level of need varies as it’s based on the FAFSA which verifies family income.

What GPA, SAT and ACT Scores do you Need?

An above average GPA, strong SAT and ACT scores may qualify you for a merit scholarship. Right now, the average college GPA is 3.15 or B grade. Having these grades may help you get scholarships based on GPA so don’t lose hope.

Yet merit scholarships tend to be for high achievers. So many providers look for college students who score above 3.5 GPA. This translates to a 90% average or A grade. There are even scholarships that set the bar above this to attract the brainiest minds. A 3.7 GPA, for e.g. signals most of the grades you got were A’s.

How Do You Get a Merit Scholarship?

Once you set your sights on a merit scholarship, you could boost your success with these tips. 

1. Apply Early

Many awards are competitive and applying for them takes time. You’ll often have to gather transcripts, records and letters of reference. Plus, many ask you to write a detailed and clear essay about your goals. Leave time for these steps so you come off as organized and focused.

2. Keep Your Grades Up

Look for awards you qualify for based on your skill sets, grades, and test scores. As a rule, focus on getting your grades in their best shape. Also keep in mind, that getting a merit award is only half the battle. You win really big if you get an award to use at the schools you want to get into. 

3. Take Active Steps

Being a high achiever, volunteer, athlete or artist takes steady effort. And it’s that consistency that many providers look for. Any times you fall short of your goals, you can tackle these issues before they snowball. To take active measures, it may be useful to meet teachers, coaches and your guidance counselor on a regular basis. Not only can this ensure you stay on track, it also builds a network of possible references.

4. Plan to Ace the ACT/SAT

Standardized test scores and grades may hold the key to a merit scholarship. Many students don’t do as well as they hoped because of test day jitters and lack of a prep plan. Learn and prep (a lot) for the ACT and SAT tests. To do this, you must understand the material, how long to study and solid practices for the day itself.

5. Find Good Matches

Even if you meet the criteria, not all merit scholarships you see are ideal fits. To search with more purpose, you might use the Scholarship match quiz. It uses an algorithm to match you with the perfect scholarships based on your interests and goals. Once you have your list, send in a complete application and necessary documents on or by the due date.

10 Merit Based Scholarships You Should Apply For in 2024

Here are 10 merit scholarships you should apply for now.

  1. National National Eagle Scout Association STEM Scholarship
  2. American University National Achievement and National Merit Scholarship
  3. AXA Achievement Scholarship
  4. UNCF STEM Scholarship
  5. CIRI Special Excellence Award
  6. Coca Cola Scholarship Program
  7. CIA Undergraduate Scholarship Program
  8. Women Techmakers Scholars Program
  9. Straight A Scholarship
  10. SHPE Chevron Scholarship

What Types of Merit Scholarships Can You Apply to?

There are seven different types of merit scholarships: ACT, community service, Eagle Scouts, first generation, GPA, leadership, and National Merit. As long as you meet the criteria, you can apply for any of these scholarships. Rules about who is eligible may vary. So, our team put together a list of different types of merit awards to get you started.

ACT Scholarships

Many colleges award merit scholarships based on your ACT scores.  The ACT is a college admissions test. It tests your skills and knowledge of four areas. Math, science, English and reading. Adding the scores of each section gives a scaled score of from 1 to 36. As a rule, more selective providers look for high scores.

One example is the CIA Undergraduate Scholarship. You may be eligible if you have a 21 ACT score or higher and meet other rules. If selected, you get up to $18,000 per year for tuition. Or, if you are a STEM major, up to $25,000 per year. The awards also come with a contract to work for the CIA on summer breaks. You need to work 1.5 times the length of your scholarship to keep the funds.

Community Service Scholarships

If you volunteer, you may qualify for a community service scholarship. Community service is about giving back through unpaid efforts. They are most often available through nonprofits. One example is Their award programs foster more awareness about issues such as voter registration or stress management.

Eagle Scouts Scholarships

As an Eagle Scout, you have the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America, and this may qualify you for scholarships. A main provider of these awards is the Boy Scouts of America. BSA offers three types of Eagle Scout Scholarships: academic, merit and field study. Amounts range from $2,000 to $50,000. To qualify, you need a mix of good grades, active Scouting, and service. You must be a member of the National Eagle Scouts of America.

First Generation Scholarships

Are you the first in your family to go to college? As a first scholar, you may qualify for scholarships. Some of the places to look for scholarships for first generation students are colleges. Saint Mary’s First Generation Scholars program is an example. You might also find them through businesses and nonprofits. To qualify, many of them look at unmet financial need.

GPA Scholarships

Your grade point average (GPA) may help you qualify for scholarships. Many providers use the GPA as a metric for merit. They then set an acceptable range on the 4.0 scale. As mentioned, many merit awards go to students with a 3.5 to 4.0 GPA. But there are others for students with a 3.0 or lower. One to check out is the Straight A Scholarship. It is available through the Anthony Munoz Foundation and awards up to $5,000.

Leadership Scholarships

If you lead a sports team or even act as a mentor, you may qualify for scholarships. Leadership scholarships value efforts that help people and communities. So, a good place to look for them are nonprofits. One example is the CIRI Foundation. Their goal is to foster self sufficiency among Alaska Natives. Each year, they offer merit scholarships. The awards value civic activities, grades and people who help out.

National Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholars Program is a well known national competition. About 1.6 million high school students enter it each year. To be eligible, there are a series of requirements in order to qualify.

High school students must take the PSAT /NMSQT tests. About 50,000 students with high scores qualify for the program.  Some become commended students and semifinalists. From here, about 15,000 advance on to become finalists. Every finalist competes for a National Merit $2,500 scholarship. There may also be corporate and college sponsored awards.

Which Colleges Offer Merit Scholarships?

Many public and private colleges offer merit based scholarships. University of Vermont and Cooper Union award merit scholarships depending on GPA, test scores and other criteria.

University of Vermont Scholarships

One of the public schools with a few merit scholarships is the University of Vermont. It is located in Burlington, it serves 13,395 undergrads. Tuition at UVM is $18,802 for in state students and $42,516 for out of state. Their acceptance rate is 71%. The average first year student has a 3.7 GPA. SAT and ACT score ranges for the middle 50% of admitted students are: SAT (EBRW) 610 to 700, (Math) 590 to 710, and ACT 28 to 33.

To help you pay for school, UVM runs a few scholarship programs. The Presidential Scholarship is one. It is for first year undergrads who are out of state residents (or international).

Presidential Scholars receive a four year (8 semester) merit scholarship. Amounts range from $17,000 to $20,000 per year. To keep it going, you need a GPA of 3.0. Students must enroll in 12 credits or more per semester.

Cooper Union Scholarships

If you prefer a private and smaller size school, there are options too. One is Cooper Union, a private nonprofit college. Located in NYC, it serves 858 undergrads.

But every admitted full time undergrad receive a half merit tuition scholarship of $22,275. Admitted students may also receive other merit scholarships. Eligible Cooper Union students must meet the GPA range set by each program.

According to the NCES , total cost varies by the kind of school you pick. Other factors like where you live (on or off campus) can also impact your finances. To give you an idea, here are some costs for the years 2018 to 2019 based on NCES data.

Four year colleges (on campus costs). Average costs are $24,900 (public), $33,200 (private for profit), and $51,900 (private nonprofit).

Two Year colleges (off campus costs). Average costs are $18,300 (pubic), $30,100 (private for profit), and $32,900 (private nonprofit).

Why is it Beneficial to Apply for Scholarships?

Merit based scholarships are generally a better option than taking out a student loan. And, with no strings attached, scholarships can help you pay for a college which may be a financial burden. You should consider these benefits of applying for a scholarship:  

  • If you don’t qualify for need based aid according to your family’s income level, you might qualify for merit aid.
  • You might attract scholarships if you apply to schools where you rank in the top 25% of your class.
  • Merit awards may cover entire tuition for four years or be a one time award for one year.
  • A merit award may add value to your resume or CV.

List of 2024 Merit Scholarships

Check out these 1,115,253 merit scholarships worth $5B.

ACT Scholarships for 2024

Higher ACT scores may improve your chances of getting a scholarship. ACT scholarships are merit-based. This means they often go to students who have above average grades. And scores on standardized tests like the ACT.

AWARDS:  4,070

Community Service Scholarships

Scholarships are available for students who are active in community service. Some will require volunteer work at specific locations and charitable organizations, while others recognize students who have contributed to their communities in any way. Browse our complete list of community service scholarships to see which ones you're eligible for and apply today!

AWARDS:  547

Eagle Scout Scholarships

Scouting can teach you about the outdoors, community, and it can even help you earn scholarships for college! A variety of schools and organizations provide scholarships just for students who have reached the rank of Eagle Scouts - and we've collected some of them here. Browse and apply today!

AWARDS:  184

First Generation Scholarships

If you are first in your family to attend college, you have a lot to be proud of — and celebrate! By continuing your education, you will also have a huge financial responsibility that may be hard to navigate without the guidance of former college graduates. There are many scholarships for first-generation students to help encourage academic success and decrease student debt, and you can find them right here!

AWARDS:  696

GPA Scholarships

GPA scholarships require applicants to have a certain grade point average to be eligible to apply. But that doesn't mean they are just for straight A students! Some scholarships specifically aim to support students who have more average grades, but a strong record of participation and community involvement. Search and apply for scholarships based on GPA.


Leadership Scholarships

Are you a leader, not a follower? Are you captain of a school team or president of the student body? Did you lead a group of volunteers on a project? If so, you may be qualified for free money for school with these leadership scholarships. Take the lead and browse our list of awards.

AWARDS:  17,592

Merit Scholarships

You've worked hard to earn excellent grades and you've studied long hours to ensure the best SAT and ACT scores. The providers of these scholarships want you to know that your work is recognized and they know that an investment in your educational future is likely to be one with high returns for society. If your grades are high and your standardized test scores are at the top of the chart, these merit-based scholarships, grants, and fellowships are for you!

AWARDS:  659,751