How to Raise Your Chances of Winning a Merit Scholarship
Most grants—especially Pell grants from the federal government are given out because of financial need. However, with the increasing cost of a college education, the students with the greatest financial need aren’t the only ones who need help paying tuition. Even students from middle-class backgrounds frequently struggle to make tuition payments—and can have their futures hampered by serious student loan debt.
If you or your family earns too much to qualify for need-based grants, you may still be able to win a merit scholarship. These scholarships are given out by schools or by private institutions, and frequently award either academic achievement, artistic talent, or athletic skill. Many schools offer only a limited number of merit awards—so competition is high. Here are a few tips to improve your chances of winning a merit scholarship.
Are you academically gifted? Are you a student athlete? Do you paint or sing or write or act? If so, you may qualify for a scholarship from a school or institution that wants to reward students with these skills.
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If you’re a minority, there are a number of organizations that offer scholarships that may fit your background—the Ron Brown Scholar Fund for talented African American students, for example, and the Asian and Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund offers tuition funding for students with an Asian background.
If you’re from an unusual background, you may also qualify for specific aid. For example, St. Johns University offers a scholarship for female students interested in pursuing a science degree. Adult and nontraditional students can find scholarships, too; for example, the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund offers funding to women over the age of 35 who are returning to school.
Have a high GPA
Not all merit scholarships put weight on your GPA—but many demand a minimum average. If your GPA is lower but you tell a compelling story, you may submit anyway—but your chances of winning are very low. Many scholarship committees receive so many qualified applicants that they are unlikely to look at your application if your GPA doesn’t qualify you. The higher your GPA, the more likely you are to qualify for more scholarships.
Search locally and nationally
National-level scholarships with large prizes tend to be very competitive. Local awards tend to be smaller, but less competitive. You can maximize your chances by applying to several local awards for which you qualify—and one or two national awards for which you’re suited as well.
Work on your writing skills
A large number of scholarship applications include an essay section. You may have a compelling story and meet all the requirements—but if your writing skills aren’t excellent, it’s unlikely you’ll win. Bear in mind that many scholarship competitions are, at their heart, writing competitions—and work hard on your essay writing skills.
If you start your research early, you’ll have more time to write and revise an award-winning essay, create a portfolio of work if that’s applicable, and line up the people who’ll write your letters of recommendation. The application process can be onerous, so it’s important to avoid procrastination.
Bear in mind that if you win a large scholarship, it could affect your federal student aid—how this works out will vary from student to student, so consult a financial aid officer to know for sure. Start early and maximize your chances by doing what you can to boost your GPA and work on your writing skills. In addition, know your own selling points—and which types of scholarships are more likely to go to you. If you do, you’re more likely to land non-loan funding to pay for your education—at a traditional or accredited online school.
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