Merit-Based Scholarships: The Criteria and Application Process

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There are many scholarships available to students who have already been accepted into a college or university. These awards are usually based on merit, so you’ll need to do well in school and also show some other kind of distinction to win them. Charles Kirkland will describe the different types of merit-based scholarships, who typically receives one, how you qualify for one and how you should apply for them.

What are merit-based scholarships?

Merit-based scholarships are those that are awarded based on academic performance. They may also be awarded based on other criteria, but not financial need. For example, you could qualify for a scholarship because you are an athlete or have a particular talent like singing or playing an instrument.

The most common types of merit-based scholarships are:

  • Academic Scholarships – These awards focus exclusively on academic achievement and may require minimum GPAs or test scores as eligibility requirements. Some academic scholarships also consider personal essays or extracurricular activities as part of their application process.
  • Talent Scholarships – These awards focus exclusively on talent and might include auditions, interviews and portfolios as part of their application process (e.g., sports scholarships).

Who Typically Receives a Merit-Based Scholarship?

Students who have a high GPA, SAT or ACT score and are involved in extracurricular activities are typically eligible for merit-based scholarships. These students tend to be strong applicants because they’ve proven themselves academically and have the opportunity to do well in college.

If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, check out our list of common scholarship requirements below:

How Do You Qualify for a Merit-Based Scholarship?

To qualify for a merit-based scholarship, you need to be a good student. That means having a high GPA and test scores that are above average. You also need to demonstrate leadership qualities through extracurricular activities or volunteer work.

The best way to show your commitment to higher education is by getting involved in campus life as soon as possible after you enroll at college. If there’s something going on at school that interests you–a club or organization that matches up with one of your passions–join right away!

How Do You Apply for a Merit-Based Scholarship?

  • Make sure you have all the necessary materials. Most scholarship applications require high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation and personal essays. Make sure you have all these before applying.
  • Check that you meet the requirements for each scholarship program. Some scholarships are only open to U.S citizens or permanent residents, while others require a minimum GPA or class rank in order to apply for them (and still others don’t). Make sure that your application materials adhere strictly to what’s asked for in terms of academic performance and extracurricular activities; otherwise it could disqualify itself from consideration by being incomplete or poorly thought out!


The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be a perfect applicant. If you’re passionate about something and willing to put in the work, there’s a good chance that you can find a merit-based scholarship for it. Be sure to check out our tips on how to stand out as an applicant and make sure your application stands out from all the rest!

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