The basics…

There are many different types of scholarships. Financial need, academic, athletic, major specific, ethnic minorities, community involvement, adversity/hardship, creative, first-generation to attend college and so on.  Regardless of the category, the money will come from either the college/ university or a third party organization (otherwise known as an “outside scholarship”).  The majority of scholarship money comes from the educational institutions. These school scholarships, whether automatic or competitive, are tied to that specific school, or even a department within the school, and are often renewable for subsequent years.  Outside scholarships represent a smaller portion of the money awarded, are generally nonrenewable, and are not limited to a specific school.

When Searching For Merit Scholarships…

Be realistic and know where you fit in.  You do not need to have top SAT/ACT scores and GPA to get a scholarship at many schools; however, some schools do not award ANY academic or sports scholarships.  There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. Whether a school offers merit aid is entirely up to that institution. Do your research and know what types of scholarships are or aren’t offered and your realistic odds before you start the application process.

Which Colleges Offer Merit Scholarships?

Ivy League schools, as well as several other very selective schools like Stanford, MIT, Georgetown and Cal Tech do not offer merit aid. At schools with the most rigorous admissions processes and lowest acceptance rates, every student would deserve a merit scholarship.  Many schools use their endowment funds to provide generous aid packages only to qualified students based on economic need. Every school is required to disclose their need and non-need based scholarship award data.  The best way to research it is to look for the Common Data Set for each individual school.


  • Apply to the right colleges for YOU—you’re more likely to receive a merit scholarship when you’re in the top 25% academically
  • Ask about renewal terms—you might need to maintain a certain GPA throughout college to keep your award
  • Check for honors programs.  Some universities have honors programs that are designed for high academic achievers. These schools might be more willing to offer merit scholarships — and might even provide you with access to early registration, extra perks, and special housing.
  • Pay attention to deadlines! Colleges may restrict consideration for merit scholarships to early applicants.
  • Fill out the FAFSA—many colleges require the FAFSA or CSS to be submitted to be considered for any merit aid
  • Look everywhere—search college websites to see all the merit awards each school offers

Outside Scholarships

Click here to see our frequently updated list of outside (not awarded by government or school ) scholarships.  These private scholarships are awarded by businesses, agencies, organizations, and clubs to use during college. The local scholarships are usually only available to a smaller number of students so you have a better chance of getting one of these scholarships compared to a national or regional scholarship.