Top 5 Merit Scholarships for College

By Stacy Zeiger , last updated December 22, 2011

Merit scholarships reward students on the basis of their academic, artistic or athletic talents instead of financial need. In order to earn a merit scholarship, students are judged by a select list of criteria, which differs for each scholarship. Some scholarships are awarded based solely on a student’s score on a national exam, while others score students on multiple aspects of their academic or athletic record. Before applying for a merit scholarship, review the requirements carefully. Not meeting a requirement will result in your application being thrown aside.

Each year, over a million students throughout the United States take the PSAT/NMSQT as practice for the actual SAT and for a chance to earn a scholarship through the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students typically take the exam in their junior year of high school, although they may practice taking the exam in earlier grades. The top 50,000 scorers on each year’s exam are singled out to participate further in the scholarship program. Of those students, 15,000 will qualify as finalists in the program and compete to win a $2,500 merit scholarship. In addition to the $2,500 merit scholarship, all students who rank in the top 50,000 have the opportunity to compete for additional corporate scholarships. Many colleges and universities also offer their own scholarships for National Merit Finalists and Semifinalists who choose to attend their school, many even cover tuition and provide a stipend.

Students who take Advanced Placement courses in high school may be eligible to apply for a Siemens’ AP Award. The award applies to students who take AP exams in eight different areas related to science and mathematics and receive a score of 5 on at least two exams. Each year a male and female student from each state who receive a score of 5 on the greatest number of the eight exams will receive a $2,000 scholarship. Two $5,000 scholarships will be awarded nationally to a male and female applicant.

Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Educational Advancement Foundation Inc. through its undergraduate scholarships. In addition to financial need scholarships, the foundation offers scholarships for current college students in their sophomore, junior or senior year. Students who have at least a 3.0 GPA and demonstrate a history of community service are eligible to apply for the scholarship. The amount of each scholarships varies by available funding each year.

Students who participate in the National Society of High School Scholars have the opportunity to apply for a variety of merit-based scholarships. Becoming a member of the society involves being nominated by a teacher and meeting just one of the society’s requirements, such as ranking in the top 10 percent of a graduating class, maintaining a 3.5 GPA or scoring a 4 or above on an AP exam. The organization offers the Claes Nobel Academic Scholarship where students compete for a $5,000 scholarship. Students who apply for the Claes Nobel Academic Scholarship are also eligible for consideration to be awarded a $1,000 National Scholar Award. All students who join the society are eligible to apply for these two scholarship and a list of others.

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