The scoop on merit-based scholarships

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Margaret Amott College Admissions Counseling 916 974-1339

Ann thought she couldn’t attend USC because of the $64,761 annual price tag. But after submitting her USC application by the 12/1 scholarship deadline, she was named a Trustee Scholar and received a full tuition & fee scholarship ($48,347). She also received a regional Rotary Scholarship. Ann is a happy student at USC and her parents are ecstatic!
College costs are putting a strain even on families who have been saving for years. Scholarship searches should be a part of every student’s college planning.
Not all merit scholarships are based on academic qualifications. Merit scholarships can also be earned by demonstrating ability in special talent areas including leadership, artistic and community service activities.
Two main sources for merit based scholarships are:
1) The Colleges. Colleges generally give scholarships for recruitment (to encourage students to apply) and for enrollment (to offer an incentive to accept an admission offer.) Colleges may sweeten their deal for “desirable” students. The stronger your academic and talent profile is viewed by your college choice, the greater the possibility of receiving a merit scholarship. Some college scholarships require a school counselor nomination.
Not all colleges offer merit scholarships - the Ivies, Stanford and Notre Dame are examples of some that do not. During the application process, you should know which schools offer them by researching the site This is a comprehensive directory of U.S. colleges listing their specific merit scholarships and the total cost of attendance.
Don’t miss out on college-based scholarships because you don’t know how and when to apply. Carefully research the college’s web site and the application for instructions.
Some colleges that do not offer merit scholarships refer to need-based financial aid grants as “scholarships.” This can lead to misunderstanding about what is (and is not) available at these colleges. It is important to understand the distinction between merit scholarships and need-based grants. Also note – due to enrollment practices, there might be a “merit” element in need-based financial aid packages.
2) Local & Regional scholarship offerings. Your high school counseling office is a great source for a listing of local and regional scholarships. Also search the web sites of your school district and other local high schools.
Research any affiliations relating to your ethnic heritage, location, religion, parental relationships (employer, memberships, etc.), high school associations and other career extracurricular, or academic interests. Examples include: PTA, Boy Scouts, CA Teachers Association, Knights of Columbus, Rotary, etc. A reputable and free scholarship matching service is This site searches for scholarships that correspond with your student profile. For a list of various scholarships, visit

Other recommended sites:,,,,

Scholarship Tips:

Parents should become involved - they have a vested interest.

  • Performing the up-front grunt work can be helpful.

Consider creating a new, shared email for the scholarship process.

  • During this period, students will be receiving an overload of junk mail.

Never pay any vendor to find a scholarship.

Calculate the cost/benefit of each scholarship.

  • Will a potential $500 scholarship take 20 hours? This is comparable to earning $25 per hour at a job.

  • Spend your time and effort applying for specific college, local and regional scholarships and to national scholarships for which you may be uniquely qualified, such as the Gates Millennium Scholars (ethnicity) or the Discover Scholarship (personal obstacles.)

  • Determine if the scholarship is super competitive. Usually, odds for national scholarships are low: Coca-Cola offers 250 awards out of approximately 98,000 applicants .

Ignore media reports of unclaimed scholarships worth millions. These are usually generated from computerized scholarship search companies that charge to find funds. Most of this unclaimed money represents employee tuition benefits.

For the UC system, when you apply for admission, you are also applying for scholarships.
Athletic scholarships fall under the strict guidelines of the NCAA. Division I Ivy League and all Division III colleges do not offer athletic scholarships. Seek guidance from your current coach, contact the college coach and research the web site:
Apply for every scholarship for which you are eligible, no matter how small…

Every dollar you win in scholarships is a dollar less you have to borrow.”

You can’t win if you don’t apply.”

Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher of Fastweb and FinAid

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