Top merit-based scholarships

Find merit-based scholarships that can help you pay for college.

Here's a scholarship you can apply for in minutes.

What are merit-based scholarships

Merit-based scholarships are financial aid offered in recognition of student achievement. Merit-based scholarships can help students attain higher education opportunities that otherwise may be out of reach due to financial reasons. All scholarships are free money for college that you don’t have to pay back. 

Eligibility requirements for merit-based scholarships

Before you apply to merit-based scholarships, make sure you check the eligibility requirements to see if you qualify. Some common eligibility requirements may include your GPA, community service, citizenship, plan to attend an accredited program, leadership potential, and submitting a FAFSA®. Scholarship eligibility requirements vary, so don’t assume you won’t qualify. Check them out!

Are merit-based scholarships worth my time

Some scholarships are quick and easy to apply for. Others require time and effort. Typically, fewer students apply to scholarships that require work which means you could have better odds of winning. 

Pro tip? Don’t skip over merit-based scholarships that have smaller award amounts ($). There’s typically less competition for them—and they add up!

How to find merit-based scholarships

There are many resources to help you find merit-based scholarships.

Scholarship resources

  • The financial aid office at a college or career school
  • Organizations (such as professional associations) related to your field of interest
  • Federal agencies
  • Free scholarship search engines, like Scholarship Search by Sallie
  • Local libraries, businesses, or associations

Your high school guidance office is a great place to start when looking for local scholarships. You could also try doing a search for your city’s name and “community foundation," or the county you live in and “foundation."


Find scholarships that are right for you

Easily search through hundreds of college scholarships based on your background, major, state you live in, and more.

Hot tip! Smaller scholarships may have less competition, increasing your odds of winning.

Merit-based Scholarships

$2,000 Sallie Mae Scholarship

Due 12/31/2024


CIA Undergraduate Scholarship Program

Due 6/30/2024


AX Control, INC Academic Scholarship

Due 7/1/2024


Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship

Due 7/1/2024


Paul Flaherty Athletic Scholarship

Due 7/15/2024


PALCUS Portuguese American Scholarship

Due 7/31/2024


NSHSS Hometown Hero Scholarship

Due 8/1/2024


Cameron Impact Scholarship

Due 9/5/2024

Full tuition

WJA Veteran Grant

Due 10/31/2024

Amount varies

Gen and Kelly Tenabe Scholarship Program

Due 7/31 - 12/31/2024


What types of merit-based scholarships are available

Career-specific grants or scholarships

These are awarded to students who know they want a career in a specific industry. Maybe they know they want to be a teacher, a nurse, or an engineer. To be eligible for grants, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). To find career-specific scholarships, try searching for your major and “association.”

Community or nonprofit scholarships

Nonprofit and community organizations often receive funding from donors to create scholarship programs for students who need them. 

Tips for successful scholarship applications

  • Pull together everything you need for the application including transcripts, so you can submit a complete scholarship application. 
  • You may need a recommendation letter or letters for a scholarship. Ask a teacher, employer, or someone else who knows you to write one for you—and be sure to give them enough time to do it.
  • If you’re writing a scholarship essay, follow the prompt, answer the essay question completely, and write from your experience. A few well-written essays that you can reuse for different scholarship applications can really pay off. 
  • Highlight your strengths and achievements in your application. 
  • Talk about your financial need and what you would use the scholarship money for if you won. How would it help?
  • Have to interview for a scholarship? Dress to impress in a professional outfit. And do your research! Look into how/why the scholarship was created. Try to bring up why it’s meaningful to you. Also, don’t forget to send a thank-you note afterwards.
  • Keep track of all the deadlines for the scholarships you’re applying to. If you miss one, they may not extend the due date. 
  • Apply for scholarships year after year, all through college. As you continue your studies, gain more experience, and try new extracurricular activities in college, you might be eligible for more scholarships you weren’t originally qualified for. 

Here are more tips that can help you understand all there is to know about scholarships and up your chances of winning.

Frequently asked questions about merit-based scholarships

These tips can help as you get ready to apply for merit-based scholarships.

There’s no standard deadline for scholarship applications. Each scholarship has its own deadline, so be sure to keep track of dates and make sure you don’t miss any deadlines of scholarships that you want to apply to.

You don’t need to know which college you’re going to attend before applying for most scholarships. However, once you’re awarded scholarships, some of them may ask for eligibility verification—which can include proof of college enrollment.

There’s no limit on the number of scholarships you can apply for or win, so apply for as many as you can. Want to find more types of scholarships? There are many! Check them out. Pro tip: Apply for scholarships each year you’re in college.

Not every scholarship will ask you to submit an essay—certain scholarships have different requirements. If you’re applying for a scholarship with an essay and need help writing yours, get tips for writing scholarship essays.

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footnote 1. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Ends 12/31/2024. See Official Rules.

footnote FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.