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Merit scholarships: Where’s the money?

Don’t feel discouraged if you have been told that your family income is too high to qualify for financial aid. Keep your enthusiasm – there are scholarships available to EVERY student, regardless of income! If you are willing to take the time to do the research and submit a great application, the rewards can be great!

What are Merit-Based scholarships?

There are some scholarships for college that are based on a students’ merit. You earn them by meeting or exceeding certain guidelines set by the scholarship-giver. The good news is that they do not require income information. Merit scholarships might be awarded based solely on academic achievement (GPA possibly combined with an ACT/SAT score), or based on a combination of academics and a special talent, trait, or interest. 

Some scholarships are geared toward a particular group of people; for instance, there are scholarships for athletes, artists or academically talented students. Some are available through your workplace or your parents’ workplace.  Some are based on background – there are scholarships for military families and students belonging to certain religious or ethnic groups.

A merit scholarship might cover the entire cost of your tuition, or may be a one time cash award. Either way, it’s worth applying because it will help reduce the cost of your education. Additionally, some scholarships are paid directly to the recipient while others go to the college to help offset any balance due.

Colleges offer their own Merit-Based scholarships 

One of the largest and most lucrative sources of merit based scholarships come directly from the colleges themselves. Many colleges offer large scholarships as part of their admissions package hoping to lure students with merit-based aid. 

  • Do your research and be sure to include colleges in your list that offer merit scholarships. Most are renewable as long as the recipient continually meets the criteria.
  • Check each admissions web-site before you apply. 

Here are two examples of colleges that offer great merit scholarships (for the 2021 admissions cycle):

University of Alabama Students with 3.0 core GPA will receive automatic merit or competitive academic scholarships if they meet the scholarship application deadline.

Florida State UniversityStudents are automatically considered for the University Freshman scholarship, valued at $2,400 per year x 4 years. Students awarded the Freshman scholarship can then apply for the Presidential Scholars Program = $31,200 over 4 years.

Bright Futures Scholarship

The Bright Futures Scholarship is available to all high school students who qualify and are Florida residents. The money can be used toward public or private colleges in Florida. Students have until the end of senior year to qualify, so it is vital to be aware of the requirements and continue standardized testing or working toward the qualifying GPA. For more information visit the web-site at

Scholarship search engines – consolidate outside scholarship opportunities

There are free tools available to every student searching for scholarships. Often, the student has the ability to set parameters and then match with scholarships, providing a much easier process.

  • Naviance Search Engine – Some schools use the Naviance platform to manage college applications, it provides an excellent scholarship search tool.
  • RaiseMe – students earn micro-scholarships for existing academic and extracurricular accomplishments. 
  1. Guidance Counselor or School College Advisor 

Try these free sources for more information about scholarships:

  • The financial aid office at a college.
  • Foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups.
  • Organizations (including professional associations) related to your major.
  • Ethnicity-based organizations.
  • Your employer or your parents’ employers.

When do I apply for scholarships?

That depends on each scholarship’s deadline. Some deadlines are as early as the fall of senior year, so if you’re in your junior year now, you should be researching and applying for scholarships during the summer between your junior and senior years. But if you’ve missed that window, don’t give up! Look at scholarship information to see which ones you can still apply for now.

How do I apply for scholarships

Each scholarship has its own requirements. The scholarship’s website should give you an idea of who qualifies for the scholarship and how to apply. Make sure you read the application carefully, follow directions EXACTLY, and meet the application deadline.

A cautionary note

There are individuals and organizations who will tell students and families that they will find you “guaranteed” scholarship dollars. Be advised, there are unscrupulous companies that willingly take your money and deliver nothing. Your best approach is to go directly to the scholarship source and apply on-line yourself. For more information on how to avoid scholarship scams and best practices to follow go to: Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams | FTC Consumer Information

Happy Searching! 

Christina Assal, M.A, College Adviser

Natalia XMerit scholarships: Where’s the money?