merit-based scholarships

What is a Merit-Based Scholarship, and How Can You Get One?

So college is in your future, and you’re already dreaming about it. Plastering your dorm room with posters, grabbing some coffee before your sociology lecture, opening a book outside to study—and then promptly closing it, because you chose an inordinately windy day for this, and it’s really making it difficult to concentrate. But that all sounds so expensive. Especially today, college tuition is through the roof. And according to sources like, the cost of college tuition increased by 25% in the last 10 years. Receiving Merit-Based Scholarships would be fantastic.

Sure, you hear people toss around the word “scholarship,” but where exactly do those merit scholarships come from? And besides, don’t you have to be an athlete or a star student or a redhead to get them? And even if you were qualified, you’d have to spend hours on applications, and, let’s face it—you just don’t have the time.

This article will serve as your guide on landing that scholarship. Read on to start learning.

What are merit-based scholarships?

Unlike need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships do not take your parents’ salaries into account. This means you won’t fall into that awkward space where you’re too rich for grants but too poor to throw thousands of dollars at a college education without so much as a blink—otherwise known as the Uncanny Valley of College Expenses.

Great news, right? You’d never guess it from the name, but merit-based scholarships are scholarships based on merit. If you have a high GPA, and you score well on the SAT and/or ACT, you’re golden.


It can’t really be that easy, can it?

It can! And it gets easier.

You know those applications you’re worried about? There is no application process for merit-based scholarships offered by colleges/universities. If you send in your regular admissions application, and you qualify for the scholarship, the university will often automatically send you a notice (and a check).

For private scholarships given by organizations, it depends on the scholarship source if you would be required to submit requirements for you to qualify.

How much can I get from merit-based scholarships?

Okay, so you’re probably thinking what is a merit scholarship and why does this sound too good to be true. You practically just have to sit back and relax and the money comes rolling in. Yeah, right, you say. There has to be a catch.

If you’ve looked around at any private scholarships, you’ll probably notice that they don’t give out very much. You spend hours on an essay, just for it to be tossed in a pile, judged, and maybe awarded something like $500. And, I mean, $500 is okay, but it’s barely a sneeze in the bucket of college expenses. You know that book you were trying to read outside? Probably about half that sum.

In fact, over 7.4 billion dollars are given out each year to incoming college students across the United States. That’s just from private organizations, mind you.

Listening yet?

How high do my GPA and test scores need to be?

Your ACT and SAT scores, your GPA, and your class rank could potentially be your ticket to getting merit-based scholarships.

The recent average college GPA is 3.15. This is already good but getting a 3.5 GPA and above will give you more chances of getting a scholarship. Most institutions and private organizations are after students who are really smart so if you would want to be one of their recipients of merit-based scholarships, you have to have a high GPA.

As for the ACT and SAT scores, it should also be above average for you to be considered so you better prepare for these tests.

How can I make sure I qualify for Merit-Based Scholarships?

From asking “what is a merit scholarship?” here you are now trying to look for tips on how to be a scholar. Well, we are going to give you exactly what you are looking for. Here some tips to help you qualify.

1. Start prepping early.

I’m not talking staying up all night doing practice questions. But as soon as you can—especially if you’re in your first or second year of high school—start familiarizing yourself with the format of the test. Make sure your math and reading skills are sharp. Think about test-taking strategies.

I know this sounds daunting, especially if you’re not sure where to start. But there’s no need to be afraid! There are plenty of resources designed to help you.

In fact, the best and most effective way to begin your journey is definitely somewhere around here.

2. Get help before it’s needed.

When you’re trying to keep your GPA high, make sure you take advantage of the help available. Don’t wait until it’s too late, because it’s much harder to raise a GPA than it is to sink it.

Did last night’s homework assignment make less sense than you were hoping? Are you feeling okay about a class, but worried you might not do well on the upcoming test?

Don’t wait! Ask the TA, or an older student, or your school’s tutoring center. Email your teacher and meet with him or her for some one-on-one assistance.

Take your grades seriously, and the universities will take you seriously. And soon you’ll have cash awards to show for your troubles.

3. Take the right classes.

Taking a bunch of AP and Honors classes look good on your transcript, but only if you get A’s. Otherwise, they can actually bring down your unweighted GPA, which is what colleges look at when disbursing merit scholarships.

That being said, AP and Honors classes have a lot to offer. AP English and History classes can definitely help with your ability to write essays quickly and well. AP English especially helps sharpen your vocabulary and your analytical reading skills. Struggling over difficult problems in AP Calculus makes the SAT math section look like a piece of cake.

But if you’re not feeling great about the classes, remember:

4. Consider an SAT class.

You might have heard about these classes and rolled your eyes, but they exist for a reason! They’re taught by people who know what they’re doing-especially with test strategies. They teach tried-and-true methods for raising your score.

And, sometimes, they’ll offer free e-classes to help get you moving in the right direction. With thousands of dollars hanging in the balance, what’ve you got to lose?


If in the beginning, you’re asking “what is a merit scholarship?” now, the dream of college seems like reality again. You can practically feel that book in your backpack, heavy and sure.

Seriously, who knew that by putting a little more effort into your GPA and SAT scores, you could walk away from high school with a diploma in one hand and thousands of dollars in the other because of earning merit-based scholarships.

Well, we did.

And now you do too.

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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9 years ago

So important – thank you for sharing this info