3 minute read

Guide to Merit Scholarships

Grants, Student Loans, & Fellowships

For many students, paying for college can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Many colleges and universities offer a number of financial aid options to help students pay for their college education. Merit aid is one type of financial aid students can consider.

Merit aid is non-need-based financial assistance which is awarded in the form of scholarships, grants, or tuition discounts for qualifying students. Merit-based aid is typically based on academics, athletic accomplishments, special talents, such as music, or students’ demographics.

Who Offers Merit Aid?

Merit scholarships are offered by many colleges and universities. These scholarships are typically renewable and can be awarded to more than one student. Amounts awarded with merit scholarships differ depending on the type of aid and quantity of funds available. Merit scholarships from colleges and universities can ONLY be used at that educational institution.

Although the majority of merit scholarships are offered by colleges and universities, there is merit aid offered by state governments. Usually with state merit aid, students can use the award at more than one institution as long as the institutions are in the student’s state of residence.

Keep in mind, some private institutions do not offer merit scholarships.

How to Apply for Merit Scholarships

Once a student applies to be admitted to a college or university, their application information is also used to consider them for merit aid.

There are several national merit-based scholarships to consider. These types of merit scholarships may require an application and a competition, such as a music competition, or an essay contest on a particular topic.

Types of Merit-based Scholarships

There are a variety of merit-based scholarships available to students. Merit scholarships are a great way to defray some costs of your college education because they do not have to be repaid.

Colleges and universities are great resources for finding merit aid. There are athletic scholarships, which generally are offered by the institution, by scouting competitive high school students to play intercollegiate sports at a particular college or university. Some athletic scholarships offer to pay for tuition, room and board, and other college living expenses.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation provides college-bound high school students the National Merit Scholarship Program. Winners are selected based on financial need, college attending, and career or major selected. Scholarship amounts awarded differ by scholarship type.

Academic scholarships are common as well. Most academic scholarships are awarded to students based on their cumulative grade point average (GPA). The University of Evansville, in Indiana, offers an academic scholarship specific to transfer students which are awarded to students with cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or higher from a previous institution. This is a renewable scholarship and awards in the amount of $8,000 – $10,000 per year.

At Marist College, in New York, graduate students can apply for a merit graduate scholarships. Qualifying graduate students can receive tuition discounts in the amounts of $150 per course and up to $250 per course.

The University of Virginia—Darden School offers several international merit scholarships for international students. An example is the IRC International Scholarship. This merit-based scholarship pays for an international students’ full tuition. This scholarship is only available to international students entering in even-number school years.

First-time college students at Thomas College have five merit aid options: Trustee Scholarship—awards $10,000 per year; Presidential Scholarship—awards $7,500 per year; Dean’s Scholarship—awards $5,000 per year; and, Honor Scholarship—awards $3,000 per year.

Key Points about Merit Scholarships

There are many merit scholarships to consider. To eliminate frustration, keep these key points in mind when inquiring about them:


  • Apply for merit-based scholarship that suits you. (ex: academic, international, transfer)

  • Most colleges offer some form of merit scholarship or merit-based financial aid. Check with college officials to note any potential scholarships at your fingertips.

  • Know all requirements for applying. Talk to school officials or others to ensure applications are complete and submitted by the designated deadline.

Additional topics

Financial-Aid Articles