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How can I apply for merit scholarships? (What merit scholarships can I apply for?)

January 28, 2019

If you are applying for college financial aid, then you may be wondering how you can apply for merit scholarships, and which merit scholarships you can possibly apply for.  Here we will cover the details of the process of applying for merit scholarships.


How to Apply for Merit Scholarships

Unlike with need-based financial aid, which typically only requires submittal of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the application process for every merit scholarship is different.  Some schools that award merit-based aid allow your college application to double as your merit scholarship application, while other schools require submittal of only a simple application to apply for merit scholarships.  The process of applying for non-school-based merit scholarships, on the other hand, is typically much more varied and onerous. In addition to a general application, private scholarship sponsors may require candidates to submit written essays, obtain letters of recommendation, or sit for interviews.  While you certainly can apply for as many private scholarships as you like, it is best to prioritize the scholarships for which you are most qualified.  Otherwise you may expend a significant amount of energy on the scholarship application process but ultimately reap very little financial reward.


What Merit Scholarships Can I Apply For?

Merit scholarships are awarded by colleges, religious groups, community groups, cultural organizations, national foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation, and private individuals, such as wealthy alumni who endow scholarship programs via their alma maters.  You can find out about specific scholarships that are available by utilizing the many online scholarship databases.  In addition, you may be able to learn of other lesser-known scholarship or grant programs by talking with your school guidance counselor and the leaders of any organizations in which you participate.  For the colleges to which you are applying, make sure to find out about any merit scholarships offered by the schools directly. Above all, don’t hesitate to broaden your search beyond what you can initially find online.  The competition for smaller, locally-sponsored scholarships tends to be more limited, making these types of scholarships generally easier to obtain.


Need More Information?

Some students choose to apply only for merit scholarships that are awarded directly by the colleges that they attend, since the applications for school-based merit scholarships tend to be the least demanding.  Find out here which private colleges and which public schools award merit scholarships to the most students.  If you are primarily applying to schools close to home, then find out which schools in the Northeast award the most merit scholarships, which schools in the South award the most merit scholarships, which schools in the Midwest award the most merit scholarships, or which schools in the West award the most merit scholarships.