Finding Merit Scholarships for Top Students

1195437419219858921johnny_automatic_bag_of_money.svg.medThere are several methods of finding merit scholarships for top students.  Whether you are looking for merit scholarships for top GPAs, merit scholarships for top ACT scores or SAT scores, or a combination, it will require some research time to find the best opportunities for your student.

Merit scholarships come in all sizes, from a couple thousand dollars or less to a full ride. The largest sources of merit scholarships are the colleges themselves.  Yes, there are private scholarships out there, but most of these are smaller in dollar amount and the competition is intense.

Colleges offer merit scholarships to attract top students.  Many colleges offer specified dollar amount merit scholarships for top ACT scores (or SAT scores) and/or top GPAs. These merit scholarships come in two varieties – automatic and competitive.  What I mean by automatic is that the college states that any admitted applicant with specified statistics will receive a merit scholarship.  This usually requires a certain ACT/SAT score and GPA combination (or a range).  Some schools publish the exact amount for certain score/GPA combinations and others just say the student will receive a merit scholarship within a specific range of amounts.

Colleges that offer competitive merit scholarships don’t promise anything.  The student competes with other top students for specified scholarships.  Some colleges offer both automatic and competitive scholarships.

One important thing to keep in mind – the most competitive colleges in the country generally do not offer merit scholarships.  Why?  They don’t have to. I am talking specifically about colleges with acceptance rates below 30%.  These schools already attract many more talented students than they can admit.  They don’t need to try harder!  These schools mainly focus on offering need-based aid to talented students who cannot afford to pay sticker price. You will find a few exceptions out there where a top tier school will offer a merit scholarship for top ACT scores or SAT scores and top GPAs, but these tend to be competitive, not automatic.

Best Ways to Find Merit Scholarships for Top Students

  1. The College’s Website – If your student has specific schools in mind, check the college websites to find out what the schools offer for merit scholarships.  Usually you can get to this information through the Admissions area of the website or the Financial Aid area.  Sometimes it is easiest to just find the search box and type in “scholarships” to see what you find.  Many schools offer scholarships for both incoming students and current students, so you may have to dig through a few layers to find merit scholarships for incoming students.
  2. Scholarship Search Engines – The scholarship search engine that is best for finding merit scholarships offered by the colleges is Cappex, formerly  This site used to allow you to search for schools by state, but now it appears that you need to look for a specific school to find merit scholarships.  It is still my favorite overall scholarship search engine.  It is especially useful for finding private scholarships because it will tell you how difficult the entry is and how much competition there will be for a specific scholarship.  Other similar sites to check out are and FastWeb.  These sites include some merit scholarships offered by colleges in addition to private scholarships.
  3. Online Merit Scholarship Lists – One method for finding merit scholarships is through lists that websites have compiled.  I have found these on College Confidential,, and  They tend to list only full tuition and full ride merit scholarships.  These lists are not extremely complete and tend to be outdated.
  4. Full Scholarship List – This is my own listing of full tuition and full ride merit scholarships, available to download through my website.  I schedule updates to the list twice a year, summer and around the end of the year.  I include links to the college websites so you can get full details on each scholarship.  I provide the list in Microsoft Excel so that it is sortable, filterable and searchable (other formats are also available).  It requires a large amount of my time so I charge $2.99 to download it, with all profits providing merit scholarships to deserving students.

Use scholarship lists and search engine to find merit scholarships at schools you may not have considered.  Use the colleges’ own websites to find out what merit scholarships are offered at schools your student is already looking at.  There are lots of available merit scholarships for top students.  You just need to put some work into finding them.