The greatest percentage of merit-based college scholarships come from the colleges themselves. Other than going right to the college websites to search for these merit scholarships, they can be hard to find. MeritAid.com is the best tool I have found for finding these scholarships.
What are Merit Scholarships?
Before I get into the specifics of using MeritAid.com, let’s clarify the definition of a merit scholarship. A merit scholarship is not based on financial need. It is based on the college wanting to attract highly qualified students. The school could be looking for academic qualifications, based on grades, test scores and/or class rank, or aptitude in a specific subject. The school could be looking for artistic, musical, or dance, or drama talent. The school could be looking for qualifications such as leadership or service. There are many different types of merit scholarships. Some are very narrowly focused on an area such as academics, talent, service, or leadership. Others are searching for the whole package in a quest for the applicants who are the most well-rounded and potentially high-achieving students.
How are Merit Scholarships Awarded?
Often, students are automatically considered for merit scholarships based on their college application. Some merit scholarships, typically the largest ones, have separate applications, and sometimes, the student must be invited by the school to fill out the application. Interviews and in-person competitions may be involved.
Merit scholarships can either be automatic, based on a certain combination of ACT/SAT, GPA, and sometimes class rank, or they can be competitive, meaning that the school will decide who gets a scholarship and how much they get. The automatic scholarships are usually laid out in a chart on the school website so that you can figure out exactly how much your student will receive if he or she applies to that school. The competitive scholarships are much harder to predict. You will not know for sure how much your student will receive, or even if your student will receive one, until your student has been accepted to the school and receives a notification of his or her scholarship award.
As you can tell, it can be very difficult to predict how large a merit scholarship your child will qualify for. It can also vary greatly between schools. If you will be relying on merit scholarships to make college affordable for your student, my recommendation is to cast a wide net. Find lots of schools that offer great merit scholarships and narrow them down to a list of eight to ten schools that your student will apply to.
MeritAid.com allows you to search for merit scholarships by school. You can select a state, then see all schools listed in their database in that state, and then select a school. All reported merit scholarships from that school will be listed. Most schools list amounts or ranges for each scholarship and break down whether the scholarship is offered to freshmen, transfer students, returning students or graduate students. You can click on a scholarship to get more details on how that scholarship is awarded.
The site is a part of Cappex – one of my favorite sites to use in the college search process. You can sign your student up to get college recommendations, private scholarship recommendations and messages from colleges that are interested in your student. This can be a great way to find schools, and great scholarship opportunities, that you might not already be aware of.
The downside of using MeritAid.com is that it doesn’t allow you to search for a listing of all schools that offer large merit scholarships, you can only search by school. I have not found any site that will search across all schools yet. The closest you can get is by searching for schools that offer non-need based aid to a large percentage of applicants through sites like Big Future and College Data , but that’s a discussion for another day.