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College Merit Scholarships Merit scholarships are more accessible than you think!

Maryline Michel Kulewicz and Tracy Sullivan of College 101 Admissions Consultants

True or False?  

• Merit scholarships are only awarded to students who have financial need.  FALSE.  

• Merit scholarships are only awarded to students who have straight A’s. FALSE.   

• Merit scholarships are only awarded to Division 1 athletes. FALSE.  

• Merit scholarships are offered at Ivy League colleges. FALSE.  

These are just a few of the many misconceptions about merit scholarships. In reality, a wide range of students are eligible for merit scholarships- not just a select few. And, with the cost of higher education increasing each year, scholarships are becoming an essential way to help fund a college education. It is important to know the facts.  

What’s True?  

• Merit scholarships are a type of financial aid that is not awarded based on the family’s financial need but determined by the student’s demonstrated academic and/or personal achievement during their high school years. Merit scholarships are often awarded based on a student’s grade point average, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, community service, leadership, work, major, or unique talents. 

• Many colleges offer merit scholarships to attract students that include athletes, artists, musicians, leaders, and community service volunteers. College Alumni Associations may also offer merit to students who live in a specific geographical area, excel in a certain subject, or have demonstrated all-around commitment to their high school. Awards are often given to encourage diversity, participation in certain majors, and increase enrollment for out-of- state students.  To take advantage of merit awards, families should carefully research each college website for merit award opportunities. 

• Colleges are the largest resource for merit scholarships. It is a common practice for colleges to automatically award merit scholarships upon a student’s acceptance if the student meets the academic requirements.  Although some colleges may require a separate application, interview, supplemental essay, audition review, or portfolio review to award the student a merit scholarship. It is important to understand the merit process for each college - research the college website! 

• A student is more likely to earn a merit scholarship at a school where they would be considered a top student in the applicant pool, such as a “likely” school versus a “reach” school.  A college that is considered a “likely” for a student could open the door for the student to be admitted into the college’s Honors program which could result in a larger merit scholarship. 

• Though the great majority of colleges offer merit scholarships, there are several colleges that do not. The Ivy League schools, along with many of the top selective schools, generously meet full-financial need, but do not offer academic merit. Review the admission and financial aid webpage for each college to determine the merit opportunities. 

• The Net Price Calculator (NPC), available on all college websites, allows families to input the family’s financials to determine an estimate of their need-based financial aid.  Several of the private colleges allow families to input both the student’s academic profile and family financials which will then provide an estimate of their need-based financial aid and merit scholarships that the student may receive. 

• Researching non-need based merit scholarships and need-based financial aid should begin early in the admissions process so that families can have a realistic view of the colleges that will align with the family’s financial college budget. Searching and applying for scholarships does not need to be difficult. Here are 7 great options for finding scholarships:  Going Merry, Fastweb,, Chegg Scholarships, The College Board BigFuture, and the individual college websites.  The high school’s Guidance Counseling office is also a good resource for local scholarship opportunities.  

Good luck and enjoy the journey! 

College 101 Admissions Consultants LLC. Website:  Email: [email protected]. Phone: (508) 380-3845.


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