How College Financial Aid Works

Merit-based Scholarships

Students in library.
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Merit scholarships are awarded to the best and brightest students.

Merit-based scholarships are one of the few types of financial aid that aren't based on demonstrated financial need. Merit scholarships are awarded to students based on strong academic abilities, leadership skills, artistic or musical ability, and athletic abilities, including specialized activities like cheerleading.

Compared with need-based financial aid, merit-based scholarships are few and far between. Many schools offer no merit-based aid at all. Still, students should apply for any scholarship that seems like a good fit. There are four important things you should know about merit scholarships:

  • You need to know which schools offer merit scholarships -- not all do. You can find this out by contacting the financial aid office of the schools in which you're interested.
  • You need to know how and when to apply for each scholarship. Deadlines are critical. Don't miss out on scholarships because your application was late. The school's financial aid Web site will provide you with all the information you need to apply on a timely basis.
  • Parents and students need to keep merit scholarships in perspective. Regardless of what you might hear, merit scholarships aren't, by themselves, reason to attend a particular school. A merit scholarship may serve to underline the reasons for choosing a particular school, but remember, academic and social interests and goals should drive this decision.

A great place to start your scholarship search is through local organizations and institutions. Read more about finding these scholarships on the next page.