How to win more merit scholarships

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

August 1, 2018

There are several strategies that students can use to win more merit scholarships. These strategies include an expanded search for scholarships and improvements in the student’s academic performance.

When searching for scholarships using a free online scholarship matching service, answer the optional questions in addition to the required questions. Students who answer the optional questions tend to match twice as many scholarships, on average, as compared with students who answer just the required questions. The optional questions trigger the inclusion of specific scholarships in the scholarship search results.

Even though everything seems to be online these days, don’t neglect the offline world. Look for scholarships in scholarship listing books, which can be found in the local public library or bookstore. While the online scholarship search tools provide a targeted search, scholarship listing books allow for random exploration. Be sure to check the copyright date of a scholarship listing book before using it. If a scholarship listing book is more than a year or two old, it is too old to be useful, since about 10% of the scholarship listings change each year.

It is important to apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible, no matter how small. You can’t win if you don’t apply. Smaller scholarships and essay competitions tend to be easier to win because fewer students apply. Small scholarships can add up – every dollar you win is a dollar less you’ll have to borrow – and they add credentials that can help you win bigger awards. Scholarships also provide practice for college admissions essays and interviews. 

Another tip is to practice for the PSAT. The October administration of the PSAT during the junior year in high school is used to prequalify students for the National Merit Scholarship. About 1% of the students who take the PSAT will qualify as Finalists. About half of the Finalists will receive a $2,500 scholarship.

Although most private scholarships do not ask about the student’s academic performance, students with better grades and admissions test scores tend to match and win more scholarships.

Improvements in the student’s high school grade point average (GPA) and studying for college admissions tests can increase the student’s likelihood of winning a generous merit scholarship from a less well known college or university.

Some colleges and universities offer academic scholarships to attract admissions applications from talented students. These academic scholarships are based on specific thresholds for the student’s high school GPA, admissions test scores and class rank. Generally, students whose admissions test scores are in the top 25% for the college or university may qualify for merit money. Information about the test score range of enrolled freshmen can be found in the Admissions tab of a college or university’s detail page on the College Navigator web site.

A good place to start:

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