How Do You Find Merit Scholarships?

Published by Wendy Nelson on

How do you find merit scholarships? It depends on what type of merit scholarship you are looking for! In my prior post, Merit Scholarships – Types and Sources, I broke down 3 sources for merit scholarships – Private Sources, States, and the College Themselves. Let’s look at how to find each type.

  1. State-Sponsored Merit Scholarships – Hands-down, the most complete site I have found to find state-sponsored scholarships is the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) site. The link will take you to a page called State Financial Aid Programs. You can click on your state to find state-sponsored scholarships, both merit based and need based, as well as many other college financial aid programs.
  2. Private Scholarships (aka Outside Scholarships) – This one is tricky because there are so many ways to find these and it can become very overwhelming very quickly. I believe you need to find a couple good sources first. Let me break these down.
    • You need a source to find local scholarships. Check with your high school counseling office first. Most schools keep a listing of these.
    • You need a source to find private scholarships offered to a wider audience. There are many websites available for this. My favorite is Cappex. Cappex offers helpful features that other sites don’t. Take a look at the example below. The best feature is the Rank column. Cappex ranks your matches from best to worst based on dollar value, effort involved and competition. So the highest dollar, least effort and lowest competition would rank the highest. The Competition column is extremely helpful. It will estimate how many students will be expected to apply to the scholarship. There are 5 categories. The ones seen below with one “person” have the least competition. The Effort column also has 5 different categories from “very quick” to “grueling”. You will probably always see the “easy to apply” Featured scholarships at the top. Often these are more like contests than scholarships and I wouldn’t put much stock in these. They tend to be efforts to build mailing lists more than anything. The other column that I really like is Next Steps. You can choose an option based on the action you intend to take on each scholarship, like whether you will apply, you have applied, etc. It becomes your running list of private scholarships to keep track of where you are with each one.
  3. College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships – In my opinion, these can be the hardest to find. Yes, you can go to a college’s website and find out what scholarships they offer. That’s the best way to find all the potential scholarships offered by the colleges your student has already put on his or her college search list.  But here’s my biggest question – What about all the colleges offering great merit scholarships your student is eligible for that you know nothing about?

This question used to be in my head constantly with my oldest daughter. Had we really found the best deal at the best school for her or was there a college out there that would have offered a much bigger scholarship and would have been a good fit for her?

I found that a few of the search sites, including Cappex, had some of the college merit scholarships listed, but there was no easy way to just search for these. I gave up searching for her and she did fine with a half-tuition scholarship to a highly-regarded regionally-ranked private university. However, as I kept developing the My Kid’s College Choice website and decided to focus more and more on merit scholarships, I kept thinking there should be a better tool to find these scholarships.

I had the idea of starting a database of all college’s merit scholarships, but wasn’t sure I was ready to take that on. After thinking about it for several months, I decided “Just do it!”

I can’t say “and I never looked back” because there have been many times I asked myself why I ever started this in the first place! It has been a much larger undertaking than I ever imagined, from both the initial setup aspect and the ongoing maintenance aspect. Yet I am committed to providing this information to other parents so they don’t have to wonder (like me) what better college-sponsored merit scholarships are out there for my kid.

The tool I developed for searching for college-sponsored merit scholarships is my Merit Scholarship List website. It is a subscription-based search site. It will help you find the schools that offer great merit scholarships your student either automatically qualifies for or can apply for. From there, you can develop a list of schools to look into further.

If you’d like to learn more about what this tool offers, as well as a whole lot more about all the different types and sources of merit scholarships, including tips to help your student qualify and win them, come to my next free 60-minute Merit Scholarship Deep Dive webinar. Check the registration page to find out when the next webinar is offered: Merit Scholarship Deep Dive.