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What are Merit-based Scholarships, and How to Manage Them?

Better application management of scholarships, grants, awards, and more.

What are Merit-based Scholarships, and How to Manage Them?

If you have ever asked yourself, “What are merit-based scholarships?” You’re in the right place. Below, we’ll dive deep into the ins and outs of what they are, and how to manage them if your school or organization chooses to create a program for them.

Advantages of Merit-Based Scholarships

Before we get to that, we still need to address what they are! Essentially, they are scholarships that are based on - you guessed it - merit! In other words things like:

  • Grades
  • Test scores, and
  • Other activities

The biggest benefits of a merit-based scholarship is that they will attract students that are high achievers, promote doing well in school (i.e. academic achievement is paramount), and it can elevate your institution’s prestige. One additional benefit is that it can encourage healthy competition where no one group has “an edge” on any other.

Attract High-Achievers to Your School and Promote Academic Excellence

What’s better than a new class of students with strong academic credentials? There’s something so special about a student enrolling in a school that actually wants to learn! While some schools gain a reputation for partying or sports teams, if you want your school’s pupils to focus on academia, you should incentivize them with scholarships based on merits.

The best part is, because it’s a merit-based scholarship, your recipients will be motivated to keep working on their studies while in school. After all, these types of scholarships usually come with the requirement of maintaining a certain GPA or number of credits a student is enrolled in. failure to maintain these can result in a loss of the scholarship for subsequent semesters.

Merit-based scholarships encourage students to challenge themselves and realize their potential.

Elevating Institutional Prestige

A student body full of merit scholars boosts a college's prestige. It signals that the school attracts bright and ambitious students. This educational reputation factor can create a positive cycle where the top students want to enroll thereby enhancing the school's brand and competitiveness.

Encouraging Healthy Competition

Merit scholarship programs create healthy competition among students. They must compete to win the awards, often against a pool of impressive peers. This culture of excellence pushes students to grow. It brings out their best academic and leadership qualities.

Criteria for Merit-Based ScholarshipsCriteria-for-Merit-Based-Scholarships-Internal-Image-22-Jan-2024

We alluded to this briefly earlier, but the most common factors colleges use to evaluate applicants for merit-based scholarships include:

  • Academic achievements - Grades, standardized test scores, and class rank provide objective measures of students' academic abilities.
  • Extracurricular activities - Extracurricular involvement in areas like sports, music, clubs, and community service shows commitment. Leadership positions highlight skills like teamwork and initiative.
  • Personal statements/essays - These offer insight into students' interests, goals, and personalities while displaying self-reflection and communication skills. They let applicants make a case for why they deserve the scholarship.
  • Letters of recommendation - Teachers and mentors can endorse applicants' academic and personal qualities. Letters should provide specific examples of work ethic, intellectual curiosity, leadership, etc.

Some colleges may also consider factors such as interview performance, affinity or legacy status, geographic location, and field of study. The criteria aim to identify well-rounded, engaged students who will contribute to campus life. Clear rubrics and consistent application of standards are key for fair selection.

Selection Process

To award merit scholarships fairly and effectively, colleges should establish a thoughtful selection process. The key elements you should use for your selection process are transparency, diversity, and inclusivity.

Establishing a Transparent and Fair Evaluation System

Scholarship criteria and weights should be clearly defined and made public. Using structured rubrics and consistent procedures limits bias and subjectivity. Setting minimum eligibility thresholds helps focus the applicant pool.

Involvement of Expert Panels or Committees

Groups of faculty, staff, alumni, etc. provide perspective in evaluating applications. Having diverse representation and trained reviewers promotes fairness. Discussing exceptional cases ensures policies are applied judiciously.

Considering Diversity and Inclusivity in Selection

While prioritizing academic merit, the process can also account for diversity factors like socioeconomic status, first-generation status, and underrepresented backgrounds.

Be Timely with Communication

Your applicants should never feel like they are in the dark about the status of the application. Be clear about next steps (i.e. when interviews will be), timeline for award announcements, etc…

Guidelines for Filling out and Submitting Applications


Colleges should provide clear instructions and support to encourage strong scholarship applications. Key guidelines include:

  • Eligibility criteria that is clear (i.e. GPA and test score requirements)
  • The ability to apply online
  • Clear deadlines and timelines for the scholarship program, and
  • Providing helpful hints for questions, as well as FAQs and other tips to help students have the best chance possible of receiving a scholarship

Strong applications require significant time and reflection from students. Clear guidelines and support enable applicants to shine. Standardized procedures also aid reviewers in making fair comparisons. Ultimately, robust applications lead to more informed selection decisions.

Post-Selection Communication

Communication after scholarship decisions shapes the recipient's ongoing relationship with the institution. Effective post-selection outreach includes:

Notification Process for Successful Applicants

Formal award letters with congratulatory tone inform recipients. Prompt notification allows students to make enrollment decisions. Clear next steps regarding accepting the award prevents confusion.

Providing Feedback to Unsuccessful Applicants

Constructive feedback demonstrates the competitive process and respects applicants’ effort. Discussing areas of strength and development needs equips students to improve applications for other opportunities.

Guidance for Successful Candidates in Accepting the Scholarship

Details on conditions like maintaining eligibility GPA, credit loads, etc. sets clear expectations. Reviewing pertinent policies and deadlines helps students transition smoothly. Links to housing, orientation, student resources eases onboarding.

Ongoing communication provides support during a stressful period for students weighing college options. Respectful interactions with all applicants leave a positive impression of the institution. Handling selection outcomes thoughtfully furthers the scholarship program’s mission to cultivate promising students. Clear expectations equip recipients to make the most of the opportunity.

Managing Merit-Based Scholarship Programs

Effective management and stewardship of resources sustains merit scholarship programs over time.

Budgeting and Allocating Funds

Planning scholarship amounts and recipient numbers based on endowment projections and annual budgets allows sustainable growth. Setting aside funds for administrative costs ensures successful operations.

Monitoring Academic Performance of Scholars

Tracking metrics like GPA and progress towards degree requirements identifies students who may need additional support. This helps maintain eligibility and graduation rates.

Offering Additional Support Services

Advising, tutoring, career guidance tailored for scholars fosters engagement and success. Workshops on topics like imposter syndrome, perfectionism helps high-achievers adapt to college.

Encouraging Scholar Engagement with the Institution

Mentorship programs, leadership councils, networking events with faculty/alumni integrate scholars into campus culture. This mobilizes them as ambassadors and role models.

Proactive management of fiscal and human resources enables the program to deliver on promises to recipients. Monitoring student outcomes allows customized support. Purposeful cultivation of scholars’ talents inspires them to give back. This compounds the program’s positive impact over generations of students.

Challenges and Solutions in Managing Merit-Based Scholarships

While merit scholarships offer significant benefits, administrators also face complex challenges in implementing effective programs such as:

  • Issues of subjectivity in evaluation
  • Changing educational standards, and
  • Fair and equal opportunities.

All of these issues can be mitigated with things like:

  • Public rubrics
  • Transparent review guidelines
  • Regular evaluation of academic programs to ensure everything is fair
  • Prioritizing transparent communication and accountable procedures
  • Welcoming critical feedback from scholars and reviewers
  • Adjusting strategies when necessary, while upholding rigorous standards, and
  • Creatively optimizing funds and campus partnerships.

With a culture of learning and innovation, administrators can achieve the full potential of merit-based scholarship programs. The reward is enabling outstanding students to thrive for generations to come.

Success Stories and Impact

Sharing compelling stories and data highlights the tangible benefits of merit scholarships programs. Effective examples include:

  •  Showcasing achievements of merit scholars - profile your students and their achievements
  • Measuring the impact on recipients and the institution - Collect data like graduation rates, graduate school admissions, career placements, etc…
  • Share testimonials and anecdotes -  Vignettes of scholar experiences showcased in campus publications and fundraising appeals build engagement. Heartfelt thank you notes from students and families validate donor investments.

Continuous Improvement

Merit scholarship programs should evolve over time to maximize their impact and value. When managing merit-based scholarships, it’s important to seek feedback from your recipients. This way you can evaluate where things can improve based on recipient experiences. You should also constantly evaluate selection criteria and update it when necessary. Finally, we highly recommend exploring opportunities for program expansion.

For example, you could work on growing scholarship endowments through donor outreach and increasing aid budgets. You could also streamline administrative procedures by managing merit based scholarships with software like SmarterSelect to save resources.

Continuous improvement should build upon program strengths while adapting to meet changing needs. With regular input from scholars and stakeholders, administrators can identify incremental and breakthrough enhancements.

The Enduring Value of Merit-Based Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships play a vital role in advancing higher education and student success. When designed thoughtfully and managed strategically, these programs benefit both recipients and institutions. Merit aid attracts driven students and motivates them to achieve their potential. Comprehensive selection processes and enriched support services help scholars thrive. For colleges, these programs elevate campus excellence and reputation.

Want to learn how we can help you in managing your merit based scholarships? Click here for a free demo of SmarterSelect today!


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