5 Things You Need to Know About Merit-Based Scholarships

May 7th 2016

Even if you are not at the very top of your class, merit-based scholarships are worth looking at, whether from your college or a third party. However, they are not guaranteed, so continue to apply for other funding while you wait to hear whether you have been given an award.

Excellence in Every Form

While many merit-based scholarships are academic, not all of them are exclusively so; some scholarships base their qualifying criteria solely on GPA or SAT scores, but several others insist on subject-specific performance or extracurricular excellence. Qualifying skills include artistic and performing talents, athletic skills and entrepreneurial endeavors. It all depends on which scholarship you are applying for, but it is worth remembering you do not necessarily have to be at the top of your class to get this type of help.


To apply for a merit-based scholarship, you need to already have a place at your chosen college. You also need to meet citizenship and residency requirements as laid out in the scholarship's eligibility details. Do not waste time applying for scholarships where you do not meet the eligibility criteria. These cannot be waived, and you are better off spending your time working on honing your applications for those you stand a chance of getting.

Hedge Your Bets

While you are applying for merit-based scholarships, make sure you research and apply for loan-based funding, too. Merit-based scholarships rarely cover the full costs of subsistence and study, even if your application is successful. It is also wise to remember the number of first-year students in each college who receive merit-based scholarships as opposed to needs-based grants is generally very low, often under 5 percent of the intake for the year.

Outside Support

While many colleges provide some merit-based scholarships, the amount of funding available is bolstered by a range of private organizations and not-for-profit trusts. As well as communicating with your chosen institution with regard to funding, research the funds in which you are eligible to apply. Some are subject or skill specific, while others are available to those with particular demographic characteristics and backgrounds. The time you spend researching these translates into more opportunities for funding, as each one you are eligible for improves your chances of getting at least one award.

Balancing the Books

While merit-based scholarships do not have to be repaid, they do affect your other finances. They are paid either directly to your college to cover fees or into your bank account, directly or by check. When your scholarship is confirmed, but even before it is paid, tell your college's financial aid office about it, including details of when it is to be paid and how much you are getting. This is important because your overall student aid cannot exceed your costs for attending college, so the financial aid office needs to amend the amounts of your tuition and living costs to reflect the money you receive from a scholarship. The amount remaining is what you then use to apply for further aid such as student loans.


Going to college is often a daunting prospect. You are not only taking on new academic and social challenges, you need funding to live on and pay your tuition fees. One option is to look at merit-based scholarships, which are grants that do not need to be repaid. This makes them a very attractive option for student funding, though there are several things to be aware of before you apply.

More in category

Related Content