What's a Merit Scholarship?

Get the merit scholarship meaning and learn what it takes to earn one.

Shawna Newman

December 13, 2023

What's a Merit Scholarship?
Colleges want talented students to attend their university!
Merit scholarships, or merit aid, is funding for students that is not based on financial need. Merit aid is often given to students that excel in academics, extracurricular activities, athletics, arts or other areas of special interest. JUMP TO MERIT SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES Merit aid is often provided by colleges and universities and can be redeemed for multiple semesters or years. Merit scholarships at the college level are, in a way, a form of student recruitment; colleges want high-preforming students to attend their university—boiled down this is the merit scholarship meaning. Merit scholarships can also be funded by organizations like the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Types of Merit Scholarships

There are a variety of merit scholarship opportunities available. You don't have to be a straight-A student, class valedictorian to earn a merit scholarship. Most merit scholarship recipients simply excel in a particular area of focus. Common merit scholarships include:


Many colleges offer merit scholarships, sometimes called institutional aid, for students who have high GPAs, standardized testing scores, and/or a combination of both. A university may include merit scholarships as part of a financial aid award package to help offset the college sticker price. One perk to academic merit scholarships at the institutional level is that they're often redeemable for multiple years if you uphold the scholarship qualifications each semester. For example, students may be required to take 12-credit hours each semester while maintaining a GPA of 3.5 or more.


Athletic merit aid is like academic-type merit scholarships in that most of these scholarships are funded by the college itself. Student-athletes are eligible for merit aid if they meet the qualifying criteria. For instance, a student-athlete may have to attend a certain number of practices and/or games while holding a specific GPA to receive merit money. Universities often recruit talented students with generous merit scholarships. For student-athletes, it is important to evaluate all your merit aid offers as some can be redeemed from semester to semester, while other offers may only be offered during their freshman year of college.


Many liberal arts colleges offer merit scholarships specific to their programs. For instance, a talented vocal student may receive a merit scholarship opportunity if they enroll in a degree program offered by the Music Department. The same concept applies to all areas of art, like band, graphic design, acting, painting, and more.

Special Interest

Talented students in areas that don't fall into the above categories also have merit scholarship possibilities. For example, archery may not be a typical collegiate athletic opportunity, but there are organizations out there that recognize and support this type of niche talent. The meaning of merit awards is essentially this: Students who earn merit scholarships are outstanding at what they do—they demonstrate great potential and talent in a specific area or field. This type of funding is provided without considering the financial needs.

How to Apply

Students must highlight their talent in order to earn a merit-based scholarship. Showcasing talent and aptitude is the key to earning a merit scholarship. Applying for merit scholarships varies by type. Merit scholarship applications may require essays, ACT/SAT scores, high school transcripts showing GPA, letters of recommendation, portfolios, and even tryouts. Some institutional merit scholarships only require one application or may be evaluated and distributed once a student has officially enrolled. In some cases, merit aid may be automatically applied to a student's account each semester--should they meet the merit scholarship qualifications. It's important to check with the financial aid office to understand the merit scholarship program and renewal process, if any.

Merit Scholarships

GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program

Deadline: 1/4/24
Award Amount: $40,000 The GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship Program offers college scholarships of up to $40,000 for high school seniors nationwide who showcase leadership, drive, integrity, and citizenship. Recipients join a network of exceptional students and young professionals who desire to lead, serve, and have a positive impact on their communities. Scholars earn a $10,000 renewable scholarship - up to $40,000 total - for tuition, school fees, books, supplies, and on-campus room and board, attend an exclusive, all-expenses-paid Scholars Retreat in California, and receive support throughout their leadership journeys in college and beyond. Candidates must demonstrate the attributes of leadership, integrity, drive, and citizenship within their communities, schools, and workplaces, display strong academic performance (minimum 3.0 grade point average/4.0 scale or equivalent), be citizens of the United States of America, be current high school seniors attending high school within the United States, (including any U.S. territories or commonwealths), and graduating in winter 2023 or spring 2024. Homeschooled applicants and applicants living on a U.S. Armed Forces base and attending high school outside the U.S. are eligible, and plan to enroll in a full time undergraduate course of study at an accredited four year college or university in the United States for the entire 2024-2025 academic school year.

Scholarships for Champions

Deadline: 1/31/24
Award Amount: $10,000 The Scholarships for Champions program is open to high school student - athletes in the Houston area. You must have exhibited remarkable leadership on the field, in the classroom, and throughout the community to be considered for this award.

Academic Excellence Scholarship

Deadline: 3/1/24
Award Amount: Full-Tuition The Academic Excellence Scholarship is available to entering freshmen at the University of Southern Mississippi. You must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and a minimum 30 ACT / 1360 SAT score to be eligible for this award.

Latin Grammy Gifted Tuition Scholarship

Deadline: 4/10/24
Award Amount: up to $100,000 The Gifted Tuition Scholarship is available to students pursuing a bachelor's degree in music. You must be between the ages of 17 and 25, demonstrate financial need, and be passionate about Latin music to be considered for this award.

President's Scholar Award

Deadline: 5/1/24
Award Amount: Full-Tuition The President's Scholar Award is open to incoming freshmen at Temple University. You must demonstrate outstanding academic merit to be considered for this award.

Provost Scholarship

Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: Full-Tuition The Provost Scholarship is available to entering freshmen at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This scholarship is renewable for four years, provided that you maintain full – time enrollment and a 3.0 GPA

Angier B. Duke Scholarship

Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: Full-Tuition The Angier B. Duke Scholarship is available to entering freshmen at Duke University. Recipients of this award will also spend a summer abroad at Oxford University and will receive additional funds for research or other educational enrichment programs.

Benacquisto National Merit Scholars Program

Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: Full-Tuition The Benacquisto National Merit Scholars Program is available to incoming freshman at the University of Central Florida who have received recognition as a National Merit Scholar. You must be a resident of Florida to be eligible for this award.

Siebel Scholars Program

Deadline: Rolling
Award Amount: $35,000
The Siebel Scholars Program is open to the most talented students at the world's leading graduate schools of business, computer science, bioengineering, and energy science.

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