As college admissions have become more competitive and the cost of a college education is high, schools are offering more and more merit scholarships to increase affordability in order to entice top-tier students to attend. Applicants now have access to a wider range of non-need-based scholarships, which are awarded for talent in academics, service, and other areas.  Each college has its own method of bestowing funds, so it is important to research the merit aid process at each school on your college list.

Some colleges automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Other schools require applicants to complete a separate merit scholarship application and/or essay. Some institutions have an early cut-off date—such as November 15th in the case of Emory—by which students must apply to be considered for merit aid. Finally, there are also colleges like the University of Rochester that offer further merit scholarships to returning students, in addition to any money they were promised as incoming freshmen.

Factors that Determine Merit Aid

Schools determine which candidates will receive merit awards by weighing a variety of factors including grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of the student’s 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 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.

For qualified applicants to the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College, “There is no minimum GPA or SAT score requirement. However, we are looking for students with outstanding academic records, who hold leadership roles in their school and who are committed to and have a demonstrated interest in community service. Typically, the students selected are in the top 1-2 percent of the national pool of freshman applicants.”

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, athletic, service or career interests.

Automatic Consideration

Some colleges, such as TulaneOberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Schools such as Lehigh and USC also offer a wide array of merit scholarship opportunities. Most colleges will consider students for merit aid based solely on the application for admission, but some require that students complete the FAFSA or click “yes” on the Common Application to being considered for merit scholarships at that particular school.

Washington University in St. Louis considers any applicant for the merit scholarships by the academic division indicated on their Common Application once their supplemental essay is submitted. This is a change that began in 2019, when WashU introduced their supplementary essay in the Common Application.

By Separate Application

Some schools require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid and submit additional essays. The Signature Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis, for example, requires a separate application and participation in an all-expenses-paid weekend program for scholarship finalists during March.

At Vanderbilt University, once a student applies for admission, they are emailed within two days to set up their MyAppVU account, which has a scholarship section to be completed by December 1st in order to be considered for all merit scholarships.

Boston University has a particularly generous scholarship which covers the full cost of undergraduate tuition for 20 students each year through the Trustee Scholars Program, which requires submitting your application by December 1st and completing an additional Trustee Scholarship essay on the Common Application.

In addition to Tulane’s automatic consideration of students for certain scholarships, Tulane has several merit scholarships that do require supplemental materials and have specific application procedures, such as the Deans’ Honor Scholarship, the Paul Tulane Award, the Stamps Scholarship, the Louisiana Excellence Award (Louisiana high school students only), and the Community Service Fellowship.

Schools that Award High Percentages of Merit Aid

The following chart lists a selection of schools that awarded the most merit aid to students who “had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid” for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Benefits Associated with Merit Scholarships

When evaluating your options, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities, such as access to leadership and study abroad programs, and internships with program alumni.

Another example is the Bonner Scholars Program at the University of Richmond, which is tied to a deep commitment to community service. Scholarship recipients intern for 10 hours a week for four years at an organization that aligns with their service goals. Bonner Scholars also participate in on-campus reflective exercises and educational programming.

The Emory Scholars Program offers unique programming, a strong community, early class registration, as well as other benefits.

College is expensive, and there are many paths to finding your “best-fit” as well as maximizing the best financial package. For more guidance and information on college-sponsored merit scholarships, explore our upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our admissions consulting services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!