Merit Scholarships in 2020 (How to Apply)

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 2/20/20

As you seek money for your undergraduate, graduate, or professional school education, you may wonder if you need to focus on student loans, or if you can find scholarships to ease your financial burden. Scholarships and grants are often referred to as gift money because they do not need to be paid back.

While many students benefit from access to student loans, they usually spend 10 or more years paying these loans back. Getting scholarship awards can help offset that debt.

There are two different scholarship categories: need-based and merit-based.

Financial aid in the form of grants (and some scholarships) will take into account your financial need. If you or your parents cannot afford the college education you desire, you may qualify for this form of help.

Merit-based scholarships examine your skills – academic achievement, athletic prowess, creative work, leadership skills, or community service – to award you for your accomplishments. Many colleges, universities, nonprofit groups, individual states, and private companies provide merit-based scholarships.

Applying for financial aid starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but you should also look into merit-based scholarships as you collect resources for college. 

Criteria to Help You Pick the Right Merit Scholarships

Finding scholarships that help pay for college can be a challenge, but there are numerous merit-based scholarships you can apply for depending on your current skills and achievements in high school or undergraduate school. Before you choose which merit scholarships to apply for, consider a few things about yourself:

  • Your academic record in high school and college matters a lot, including any awards or academic programs you participated in.
  • If you have special skills in a particular sport, musical instrument, type of writing, or other unique talent, include this information.
  • Volunteer work looks great on college applications, and this type of service can extend into financial aid awards like merit scholarships.
  • If you speak a foreign language or have a related academic skill set, this could help you get a scholarship.
  • Working in a leadership position in your church, volunteer organization, school, or even local government may help you earn a merit-based scholarship.

Talk to your school’s guidance counselor or financial aid office to learn more about potential merit scholarships you qualify for. This guide can also help you learn more about some national merit-based scholarships available to you. 

Merit Scholarships List for 2020

Here are some of the most respected merit scholarship programs in the United States: 

  • AGI Scholarship Programs: The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) offers a few scholarships every year to meritorious undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students studying geosciences. These merit-based programs can offer $5,000 annually to underrepresented groups in the sciences, particularly Earth science. There are two awards:
    • Harriet Evelyn Wallace Scholarship
    • Deep Carbon Observatory Diversity Grant
  • AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students: Awards go to 90 exceptional, diverse students in accounting programs. You can receive $1,000 to $5,000 for tuition and related expenses annually.

    To receive this award, you must be a U.S. citizen or resident; enrolled in a full-time accounting program in an undergraduate or graduate school; maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 4.0; show proof of financial need; and belong to a social or ethnic minority.
  • Direct Energy Live Brighter Scholarship: A $2,500 scholarship award goes to students who are attending an accredited college or university in one of the states in which Direct Energy offers services:
    • Connecticut
    • Delaware
    • Illinois
    • Indiana
    • Maryland
    • Massachusetts
    • Michigan
    • New Jersey
    • New York
    • Ohio
    • Pennsylvania
    • Texas
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Washington, D.C.

To apply, create a video or submit a short, written personal essay describing how you empower your community and transform the lives of others. You must be registered to attend an accredited school; be 18 years old or older; be a resident of one of the states listed above; have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale; and submit academic transcripts from your high school or college. 

  • Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program: This $5,000 award helps need-based students pursue their college education with the aim of helping their communities and their families.

    To qualify for this award, you must have at least a 3.5 GPA; offer proof that you are enrolled in a college program; and provide an optional recommendation letter from faculty or staff. The goal of this scholarship is to help students pursue private or public education regardless of their family’s finances.
  • Peggy Dixon Two-Year Scholarship: This scholarship is designed to financially support students transitioning from a two-year college program into a bachelor’s degree program studying physics. There is a $2,000 award available for one student every year who is moving into an accredited four-year institution after completing two years of college at a trade school, professional school, or community college.

    The online application requires a transcript, outline of physics-related courses taken, written statement of career objectives, written statement of participation in Society of Physics Students activities, certification from your department chair that you are in good academic standing, and two letters of recommendation.
  • Share Your Talent Scholarship: If you have a unique or special skill, you can receive $1,000 through this talent booking agency. Whether you have a physical skill like acrobatics or dancing, play a musical instrument, or are a classical performer, you can submit an original, short video with an example and explanation of how you began honing this talent. You must be at least 18 years old and accepted to an accredited college or university.
  • Simpson Strong-Tie Academic Scholarships: This is for architectural, engineering, and construction management students attending one of 93 schools across the U.S. There are up to 100 $2,000 scholarships available for eligible students who aim to build safer structures for communities around the country.

    The scholarship is administered through Scholarship America. There is an online application for interested students to submit an academic transcript and answer a series of questions about interests and goals.
  • Sunrise Scholarship: Promising high school seniors or undergraduate university or college students pursuing a balance between business and philanthropy can apply for this $1,000 award. The professional services company Soliant has branches in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago.

    To apply, you must be at least 18 years old and a U.S. citizen or legal resident; an incoming freshman or higher grade level in an undergraduate program; maintain a GPA of at least 3.0; and have good SAT or ACT scores, or a solid undergraduate academic track record. You will submit a short essay on balancing profitability with philanthropy and how businesses should apply this balance in the future.
  • Walter Byers Graduate Scholarship: This $24,000 scholarship is awarded to one outstanding male and one outstanding female student-athlete every year. The award is in recognition of these students’ athletic achievements as undergraduates, which puts them in good standing to continue into graduate school. Students must demonstrate combined talents in both mind and body that will make them future leaders in their career fields after receiving a higher education.

    To qualify for this scholarship, you must have at least a 3.5 GPA; have completed intercollegiate athletics as a member of a varsity team at a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institution; be a graduating senior or currently enrolled in a graduate program at an NCAA member institution; be committed to working toward a graduate degree on a full-time basis; show evidence of leadership skills and good character; have participated in athletics and community service, and show that these have had a positive impact on your development; and be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

Student Financial Aid Should Include Merit Scholarships

There are hundreds of merit-based scholarships available, but it is worth seeing what financial aid your college or university will offer you first. Most merit-based scholarships provided through noneducational institutions require that you are already enrolled in a program, so they might better serve you as financial help to fill in the gaps after you apply for and accept other student aid offers.