There are many need-based financial aid opportunities out there for college students. But for those who don’t qualify–or who don’t qualify for enough–there are a large number of merit-based scholarship options as well. With perseverance and dedication, some students have been able to finance nearly their entire college education through merit aid! The question is: how do you find these opportunities?
As always, we’re here to help!
Scholarships from Colleges
Often, students receive merit aid directly from colleges themselves. These usually come in the form of “merit awards,” determined by a variety of factors including your academic performance: grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of your high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.
But keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by your extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles. Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships; colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, service or career interests.
Some colleges, such as Tulane, Oberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Other colleges require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid, and require the submission of additional essays. For example, the University of Richmond encourages students who have demonstrated strong involvement in community service to apply for the Bonner Scholars Program. Emory provides the opportunity for entering freshmen to become Emory Scholars. Likewise, Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University have numerous merit scholarships that students need to actively apply for.
The colleges with the highest percentage of students receiving non-need-based aid range from specialized colleges, such as Olin College of Engineering, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and New England Conservatory of Music, to small liberal arts colleges such as Rhodes College, to medium-sized national research university such as Tulane. Additionally, according to recent data from the New York Times, the colleges with the highest average merit award included Trinity College, with $41,980 average merit aid (95% of the tuition/fees of $44,070) and University of Richmond, with $36,860 average merit aid (85% of $43,170 tuition/fees).
When evaluating different options, however, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities – in this case, access to leadership programs, study abroad, and internships with program alumni. As with any of the college-granted scholarships, the best sources of information on these programs can be found on the college websites themselves.
State scholarships are awarded either directly by your college through state-based programs or via local scholarships, and are another very common way to earn merit aid. Resources such as Cappex and Fastweb can help you search for opportunities particular to your state. For example, let’s focus on New York State.
New York Scholarships: You can get scholarships just by being a resident of the Empire State… and by being a good student. The Scholarship For Academic Excellence, for example, is intended for students who will attend a New York college, and is based on the results of the Regents exam.
Additionally, many scholarships in New York and elsewhere pay particular attention to applicants pursuing certain high demand fields. The NYS STEM Incentive Program, for example, provides a full SUNY or CUNY tuition scholarship for the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school. Note though, that this scholarship (like many others of its kind) comes with conditions: awarded students must often either remain in the state or work in their particular field, for a certain period of time. In the above example, students must pursue a STEM major and agree to work in a STEM field in New York State for five years after graduation.
Many of America’s largest and most profitable corporations sponsor high-paying scholarships for high-achieving students. Every year, for example, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 250 achievement-based scholarships for students with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The top 50 are designated as National Scholars and receive $20,000 while the remaining 200 are designated as Regional Scholars and receive awards of $10,000. Likewise, the Discover Scholarship Program offers an average award of $30,000 to 10 students who demonstrate leadership and community service in the face of adversity, and who have a GPA of at least 2.75. Others have more subjective standards, such as the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, which is based on video submissions, and awards $100,000 dollars to students with creativity and unique personal stories.
In additional, there are a large number of merit scholarship opportunities from private non-profits. For example, you’re probably already familiar with the National Merit Scholarship Program, which awards three types of scholarships based on PSAT/NMSQT scores: National Merit, corporate-sponsored, and college-sponsored. Additionally, the Ayn Rand Institute is a very well-known foundation that sponsors annual essay contests based on a variety of Rand’s books, awarding generous scholarships to those with the strongest essays.
Online resources such as Cappex and Fastweb are a great way to find all these opportunities, whether they’re offered by states, colleges, corporations, or foundations. They boast impressive and up-to-date databases of well-established scholarships in every subject – from engineering to art – as well as listings of some of the more obscure (see, for example, the Victor Bailliet Scholarship in Sugar Technology). No matter how esoteric or unique your interests, abilities and background may be, these sites are a terrific way to search for and find scholarship sources.
There are thousands of potential merit scholarships for you beyond what we’ve mentioned here. For more guidance and information, contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help.