When it comes to financial aid, the form that students often apply to outside of need-based help is merit-based scholarships. Ranging from standard categories such as scientific excellence to categories that are meant to help certain groups like first generation college students, there are many forms of scholarships that students can choose to apply to.
This article will primarily focus on one of the largest merit scholarships, the National Merit Scholarship, as well as other smaller ones.
In terms of qualifying to become a National Merit Scholar, the criteria is arguably the most simplistic of most merit scholarships: the one thing you need to do is score in the top percentile on the PSAT within your state. While this is obviously not as easy as it sounds, it does mean that almost every high school student has a fair shot at the reward. Is should be noted that individual state cutoffs may vary drastically. For example for 2018, you needed 211 out of 240 in West Virginia as a semi-finalist but you needed 221 out of 240 to qualify in California.
Once a student has taken or been administered the PSAT by their school and then met the cutoff, they can then finally put in their information along with two short essays to qualify to be a National Merit Finalist. While some schools will only give marginal aid for national merit, students should still apply as other schools are very generous. For example, USC gives out a half ride Presidential Scholarship which can potentially save a household over $80,000 over the course of four years.
While the National Merit Scholarship is arguably one of the most prominent scholarships out there, there are also specific scholarships that students can apply to. In fact, there are websites like Unigo that are entirely dedicated to help students find scholarships. In addition, individual schools will also have their own specific scholarship that students can apply to, such as UC Berkeley’s Leadership Award that gives a small amount of money to students from undergraduate freshman to final year graduate students. Whether it be looking through a larger search engine or looking at a specific college website, there are definitely many places to look for merit scholarships.
A lot of focus with financial aid has been on the need-based kind, but there are plenty of opportunities to get aid based on what students have accomplished thus far in their academic careers. Another facet of merit scholarships that sometimes students don’t consider is that they make great additions to any resume as great indicators of academic excellence and high performance. Even for those who only become a National Merit Semi-finalist, it still shows that a certain academic milestone was achieved. From the big-named ones such as National Merit to the smaller ones that are found on Unigo, there is no shortage of opportunities for students as long as they put in an effort to look for them.