Merit-based scholarships are financial aid gifts wrapped in profitable packages to high achievers who’ve worked hard for tremendous accomplishments. Many merit-based funds are designed for academically gifted students at the top of their class with plentiful As. However, merit-based aid could also reward scholars for artistic talent, athletics, research, or community service. It’s the direct opposite of need-based scholarships, which are awarded solely for financial means. Merit-based programs don’t factor in income, so students from affluent backgrounds are just as entitled.
According to the NCES, 14 percent of American undergraduates receive merit-based aid with an average award amount of $4,700. Below we’ve compiled 20 of the best scholarships offering large sums based on merit.
Ranking the Best Merit Scholarships for High School Seniors
1. ABA Academic Merit Scholarship
Deadline: April 6th
The American Bus Association (ABA) offers the Academic Merit Scholarship for $5,000 annually to two freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors who are studying majors related to transportation or travel, including hospitality management. Eligible members and non-members must attend accredited four-year U.S. universities with a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or better. Other merit-based funds are the Peter L. Picknelly Honorary Scholarship and Driving the Future Award.
ABA Academic Merit Scholarship
111 K Street NE 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20002
2. Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
Deadline: January 27th
Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is a competitive, merit-based award providing up to $7,500 for sophomores and juniors majoring in mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences. Eligibility criteria mandates being nominated by an accredited undergraduate school, being U.S. citizens or resident aliens, showing interest in research careers, displaying academic achievement with a minimum 3.7 GPA, and presenting an essay describing a scientific issue.
Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
6225 Brandon Avenue Suite 315
Springfield, VA 22150
3. Bryan Cameron Impact Scholarship
Deadline: September 15th
The Bryan Cameron Education Foundation initiated the Impact Scholarship to cover full tuition up to $50,000 per year for meritorious high school seniors who have maintained a minimum unweighted GPA of 3.7. One-fourth of funds are reserved for students pursuing public service careers, including education, government, healthcare, and military. Eligible applicants must be U.S. citizens, matriculate full-time for a bachelor’s degree, demonstrate strong work ethic, and participate in civic-minded activities.
Bryan Cameron Impact Scholarship
8939 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Suite 110
Los Angeles, CA 90045
4. Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program
Deadline: February 8th
Since 1999, the Davidson Institute has granted over $6.7 million to profoundly gifted young people under age 18 who primarily score in the 99th percentile on achievement tests. The Davidson Fellows Program provides $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000 scholarships to reward exceptional projects close to the college graduate level. United States citizens can apply in eight categories: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, or Outside the Box.
Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program
9665 Gateway Drive
Reno, NV 89521
5. Elks Most Valuable Student Scholarship
Deadline: November 30th
Annually, the Elks National Foundation hosts its Most Valuable Student Competition to award two $50,000, two $40,000, two $30,000, and 14 $20,000 scholarships. The merit-based program considers high-achieving graduating high school seniors with U.S. citizenship who will enroll full-time with 12+ credits at accredited universities. Top Elks finalists are invited to an all-expenses paid Leadership Weekend in Chicago for networking and serving at a local veterans hospital.
Elks Most Valuable Student Scholarship
2750 North Lakeview Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614
6. GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship
Deadline: January 5th
Named after our country’s 40th President, the GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship presents $10,000 over four years for $40,000 total to outstanding undergraduates who exhibit ambition, integrity, and citizenship through service contributions. Qualified applicants must be United States citizens, enroll full-time in baccalaureate study this Fall, carry a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, and be nominated by eligible community leaders. The selection committee requires a Skype or telephone interview for semifinalists.
GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93065
7. Gordon Hay Scholarship Fund
Deadline: March 9th
Sponsored by the Education Department of Blumenthal Performing Arts, the Gordon Hay Scholarship Fund selects one recipient for $5,000 yearly. It’s designed for high school seniors, college freshmen, and sophomores from Greater Charlotte, North Carolina, who are pursuing non-performing arts careers, such as music composition, choreography, stage management, costume design, or playwriting. Selection is based upon academic merit, artistic talent, community engagement, and theatrical accomplishment.
Gordon Hay Scholarship Fund
130 North Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
8. Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship
Deadline: October 28th
Giving “Freedom to Innovate,” the Fannie & John Hertz Foundation offers a five-year, merit-based Graduate Fellowship with full-tuition coverage, $38,000 stipend, and cohort workshops. Chosen fellows must be earning Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in applied sciences, such as aeronautics, chemistry, computer science, geoscience, nuclear engineering, quantitative biology, and statistics, at participating U.S. schools. Recipients form a moral commitment to make their technical skills “available in times of national emergency.”
Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship
2300 First Street Suite 250
Livermore, CA 94550
9. Irene and Daisy MacGregor Medical Scholarship
Deadline: February 10th
The Daughters of the American Revolution bestows the Irene and Daisy MacGregor Medical Scholarship for $5,000 to graduate students holding a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher. Applicants must be enrolling full-time at an accredited medical schools for MD and DO degrees or pursuing an advanced practice degree (MSN or DNP) for psychiatric nursing. The DAR’s other merit-based scholarships include the Alice W. Rooke Scholarship and Richard and Elizabeth Dean Scholarship.
Irene and Daisy MacGregor Medical Scholarship
1776 D Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
10. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship
Deadline: November 30th
Valued at $40,000 per year, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship supports high-achieving high school seniors who’ve worked hard to attend the United States’ most prestigious four-year universities. At minimum, scholars must earn a cumulative unweighted GPA of 3.5, achieve a composite SAT score of 1200, attain a combined ACT score of 26, and have annual family income under $95,000. Applications must include an academic transcript, standardized tests, two recommendations, and a page-long personal essay.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship
44325 Woodridge Parkway
Lansdowne, VA 20176
11. Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship
Deadline: September 30th
During his 24-year tenure in the Senate, Jacob K. Javits created the merit-based National Graduate Fellowship to reward graduate students of superior academic ability with $15,000 stipends and up to $10,375 in tuition coverage. It’s intended to fund Master of Fine Arts or doctoral study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences at accredited U.S. graduate schools. Acceptable fields would include archaeology, linguistics, rhetoric, creative writing, photography, sociology, psychology, economics, and more.
Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship
1990 K Street NW, 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20006
12. National Merit Scholarship Program
Started in 1955, the National Merit Scholarship Program is a long-standing competition that selects the top three percent of high school juniors who score extraordinarily high on the Preliminary SAT exam. Index scores are calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math tests. The $2,500 scholarships mandate normal progression toward high school graduation, U.S. citizenship or lawful residency, and intent to enroll full-time in accredited post-secondary education.
National Merit Scholarship Program
1560 Sherman Avenue Suite 200
Evanston, IL 60201
13. Paul Tsongas Scholarship Award
Deadline: February 1st
Through the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA), the Paul Tsongas Scholarship Award waives full tuition costs for high academic achievers at nine state-funded universities. Qualifying schools include Fitchburg State, Salem State, Westfield State, and Bridgewater State. High schoolers must reside in Massachusetts for 12+ months, achieve a minimum secondary GPA of 3.75, score 1200 or higher on the SAT, and comply with Selective Service Registration if applicable.
Paul Tsongas Scholarship Award
454 Broadway Suite 200
Revere, MA 02151
14. Ron Brown Scholarship Program
Deadline: January 9th
To honor the first African American to serve as Secretary of Commerce, the Ron Brown Scholarship Program awards $10,000 per year to intellectually gifted Black graduating high school seniors. Eligible recipients must be U.S. citizens or hold a visa, excel academically, plan to attend an accredited four-year college, participate in community activities, and be public service-minded. There’s also a Guided Pathway Support (GPS) program to help rising juniors and seniors of color navigate college admissions.
Ron Brown Scholarship Program
1160 Pepsi Place Suite 206
Charlottesville, VA 22901
15. Ruth K. Jacobs Memorial Scholarship
Deadline: February 1st
Funded by the founder of Choristers Guild, the Ruth K. Jacobs Memorial Scholarship delivers merit-based, renewable $1,500 awards to full-time college students pursuing vocations in Church music ministry. Qualified candidates must register for 12+ credits at accredited U.S. institutions, attain at least junior standing, major in music with a choral emphasis, and exhibit musical talent for Church service. Electronic applications must include references from an ordained minister and music professor.
Ruth K. Jacobs Memorial Scholarship
12404 Park Central Drive Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75251
16. SAPA Excellence in Education Scholarship
Deadline: April 30th
Each year, the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association (SAPA) has awarded $2,000 through its Excellence in Education Scholarships to meritorious high school seniors who will pursue bachelor’s degrees in the life sciences full-time. Interested candidates must be accepted at accredited four-year colleges, be U.S. citizens or resident aliens, possess a minimum overall GPA of 3.3, achieve a SAT score of 2000 or ACT score of 30, and show potential for contribution to the pharmaceutical industry.
SAPA Excellence in Education Scholarship
P.O. Box 282
Nanuet, NY 10954
17. The Hungry to Lead Scholarship
Deadline: June 1st
Sponsored by Professional Reps., the Hungry to Lead Scholarship bestows $2,500 based on academic merit to high school seniors or college undergraduates who are pursuing degrees in food service or hospitality. Judges seek applicants who have U.S. citizenship, attend accredited two or four-year colleges, display leadership ability, attain a minimum 2.5 GPA, and score at least 1300 on the SAT or 18 on the ACT. There’s also the $2,500 Amana Leadership Scholarship.
The Hungry to Lead Scholarship
750 E. Covey Lane Suite 110
Phoenix, AZ 85024
18. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship
Deadline: March 15th
The Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation in Arizona offers its Undergraduate Scholarship to 60 high-achieving college sophomores and juniors for $7,000 each year. Certain funds are reserved for Native American and Alaskan Native students who are pursuing careers in healthcare or tribal policy to improve Indian country conditions. Others go to diverse scholars who demonstrate keen commitment to environmental conservation. Unlike most merit-based programs, grades matter less than community service and leadership.
Udall Undergraduate Scholarship
130 South Scott Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85701
19. Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarship
Deadline: November 7th
Named after the Prime Minister who rallied British during World War II, the Winston Churchill Foundation offers a lucrative, merit-based scholarship for $50,000 to $60,000. American citizens interested in studying science, mathematics, or engineering at the University of Cambridge for nine to 12 months should apply. Eligible college seniors must be finishing bachelor’s degrees at participating U.S. institutions, pursue master’s study in STEM disciplines, attain a minimum GPA of 3.7, and contribute to scientific discovery.
Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarship
600 Madison Avenue Suite 1601
New York, NY 10022
20. YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund
Deadline: November 1st
Annually, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund tops the industry by awarding merit with four $30,000, four $10,000, and over 200 $5,000 scholarships. The committee seeks the brightest college undergraduates who have chosen fashion-related majors, including apparel design, fiber science, marketing, merchandising, retail sales, and consumer science. Eligible candidates must attend FSF-member colleges full-time, sustain an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher, and complete a case study on a fashion company seeking strategic growth.
YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund
1501 Broadway Suite 2302
New York, NY 10036
College is a costly endeavor, even for students who come from families whose income doesn’t qualify for need-based financial aid like the Pell Grant. Luckily, merit-based aid is available for top-ranking students who maintain good grades, score high on the SAT/ACT, and excel outside the classroom. These 20 merit-based scholarships are quite competitive, but don’t forget to ask your school’s financial aid office about merit aid opportunities too.
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- 20 Highest Paying Bachelor Degrees
This concludes our coverage of top merit based scholarships for high school seniors.