10 Private Colleges with the Best Merit Aid

Private Colleges with the Best Merit Aid - featured image

Author: Rai Antonio | Reviewed By: Melissa Anderson, MS.Ed. | Reading level: Grade 10 | First covered: December 2023 

Key Takeaways:

  • The #1 college on our list of the colleges with the best merit aid is the College of the Atlantic, followed by St. Lawrence University.
  • College merit aid refers to financial awards given to students based on their academic, artistic, athletic, or other talents and achievements, rather than their financial need.
  • Merit aid can significantly reduce the overall cost of college for students who qualify, making higher education more accessible and affordable.

Studies estimate about 61% of high school graduates are interested in going to or will definitely attend college. The rest think that, for some reason, college isn’t an option. One of the biggest obstacles is the rising cost of earning a college degree.

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To help eligible students reduce their college costs, many colleges and universities offer financial aid options such as the merit scholarship.

Private Colleges with the Best Merit Aid - fact

US Private Colleges with the Best Merit Aid

1. College of the Atlantic

Bar Harbor, Maine


The College of Atlantic offers many scholarships; it is only a matter of evaluating which financial aid program fits you best.  Full-time college students who maintain excellent academic standing at COA are entitled to win either of these merit scholarships for up to four years:

College of the Atlantic Presidential and Deans’ Scholarships

These merit-based prizes are given out according to students’ academic performance and civic virtues. The prizes range in value. To be eligible for these grants, all applicants should complete and submit an application for admission to COA.

Children of Maine Teachers Scholarship

This merit scholarship awards a $10,000 annual prize to incoming students whose parents work full-time as K–12 teachers in Maine or as full-time college instructors. To apply and qualify, you need to provide proof that your parent works in a Maine-accredited school.

2. St. Lawrence University

Canton, New York


At St. Lawrence University, there are merit scholarships, but there is a maximum of one scholarship per student. Should a student be eligible for several scholarships, the highest-value scholarship will be given out. The institution offers complete tuition for up to four years to the best first-year students through the Trustee Scholarship. There is no application cost at St. Lawrence University, and applicants are immediately considered for merit scholarships. 

In 2021, 96% of first-year undergraduates received financial aid. This assisted in defraying the $77,400 total cost of tuition. 

3. Ursinus College

Collegeville, Pennsylvania


The Office of Admission at Ursinus College grants merit scholarships to full-time students. Ursinus welcomes scholarship applicants who showcase leadership potential and excellent academic performance.

The specialty scholarships, which honor students who succeed in their areas of specialization, award up to $40,000 per year for diverse subjects. This includes physics, the arts/dance, social justice, and business.

Some of the school’s merit scholarships are:

  • Ursinus Scholarship: up to $30,000/year
  • Legacy Scholarship: $2,500/year
  • Rev. Charles Rice Memorial: $35,000/year
  • Zacharias Honors Scholarship: $40,000/year

4. Lake Forest College

Lake Forest, Illinois


Lake Forest College provides qualified students and their families with affordable merit-based scholarships of up to $34,000 per year. More than 95% of accepted students are given financial aid based on need. Students who maintain a 2.0 GPA and make adequate academic progress are guaranteed scholarships throughout their four-year college program.

5. Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo, Michigan


About 98% of students at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, receive financial help of some kind. Annual merit-based aid disbursements range from $30,000 to $42,000, as long as the conditions are met. If you plan on studying abroad, you also can use your merit scholarship to fund your studies.

Kalamazoo evaluates a student’s academic accomplishments, including grades and coursework. The good thing about merit scholarships at Kalamazoo College is that your SAT or ACT results do not determine the scholarship amount.

6. St. Olaf College

Northfield, Minnesota


St. Olaf provides merit scholarships for students excelling in the arts, academics, service, and leadership. You can reach out to the St. Olaf Admissions Office and file for your merit scholarship application.

There is no limit to the number of scholarships an applicant may apply for. All merit scholarships combined are generally not worth more than $37,000. When a need is clearly demonstrated, eligible St. Olaf students are granted merit scholarships partly or entirely.

7. Centre College

Danville, Kentucky


A variety of fellowship and scholarship opportunities are available for Centre College students. Merit scholarships are given out after a careful examination of your qualifications. A little over half of their yearly candidate pool is awarded one of these scholarships.

Renewability of the Centre College Merit Scholarship is contingent upon GPA scores. After completing the Common App, you will automatically be considered for several scholarships. 

8. Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana


Known for offering the most generous college scholarship programs in the nation, Wabash offers an alumni- and contributor-backed merit scholarship program. To apply, applicants must pass a comprehensive evaluation of their academic record, including grades, strength of their curriculum, standardized test results, and class rank. The applicant’s proficiency in their college-prep classes and the depth of their high school education will also be assessed. These factors are used to calculate the range of merit scholarship amounts for which Wabash students can qualify.

9. Beloit College

Beloit, Wisconsin


Beloit College merit scholarships draw applicants who are ready for the demanding academic program at Beloit and are ready to uphold the school’s mission to grow a dynamic community of future academics, leaders, and innovators. Students may apply for academic merit scholarships worth up to $47,000 per year based on their academic success, leadership skills, and community service involvement. Their capacity to contribute to or influence the Beloit community is also evaluated.

10. College of Wooster

Wooster, Ohio


The College of Wooster offers the Dean’s Scholarship worth up to $40,000 a year. This is a merit scholarship for students who show overall academic success and demonstrate a potential for leadership and extracurricular activity involvement. First-year applicants are generally evaluated for the Dean’s Scholarship. In fact, approximately two-thirds of admitted students are awarded this merit scholarship. Students at the College of Wooster may also apply for performance-based scholarships. Wooster does not take SAT or ACT results into account for awarding merit-based scholarships because it is a test-optional institution.

Criteria for Applying for Merit Scholarships

Your school and your college department are the best places to start your search for merit scholarships. Certain educational establishments provide scholarships for distinction that are awarded to all eligible students across the school. Meanwhile, other grants are provided by departmental budgets and are restricted to specific students who have declared a major.

No matter which merit scholarship you apply for, here are the criteria for application:

Letter of Intent

One of the criteria for merit scholarship eligibility is a letter of intent. Let them know how much you appreciate their offer and how much you would like to attend their institution. Emphasize your reasons for choosing your college. 

Academic Performance

Institutions evaluate academic performance to identify those who are worthy of financial assistance. Benchmarks include high school grades, standardized test results, and general academic achievement. 

In assessing a student’s academic standing, schools generally take into account the following:

  • The student’s high school coursework, including the advanced placement or international baccalaureate classes taken in high school
  • A student’s grades and performance history
  • Level of dedication as a student

A student’s major and college academic coursework are also checked by admissions committees. Certain universities have more rigorous courses than others.

Extracurricular Activities

Achievements outside of the classroom are also given a lot of weight at many schools and universities. These institutions place high importance on students who are involved in their communities, show leadership, or achieve success in music, arts, sports, or other sectors. These successes give a more complete picture of the students and what they can offer the campus community.

Students have the chance to acquire important abilities and traits through extracurricular activities that go beyond academic success. Engaging in extracurricular activities such as organizations and clubs at school may serve as a testament to a student’s capacity for teamwork, time management, and leadership. Participation in community service initiatives demonstrates a student’s commitment to making a difference in their community. All the above may qualify you for a merit scholarship.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are merit scholarships?

Merit scholarships are financial awards given by colleges, universities, or other organizations to recognize a student’s achievements in the classroom or in extracurricular activities. Unlike need-based scholarships, which are awarded solely on the basis of the student’s achievements and abilities, these are not reliant on the family’s financial situation.

Merit scholarships can also have a lasting impact on a student’s future. They enable students to explore a range of educational options that they would not have otherwise thought about by reducing the financial load of school. Because they may follow their hobbies and interests without worrying about money, students may benefit from a more varied and fulfilling educational experience.

How can merit scholarships impact education?

Scholarships based on merit can have a big influence on where and how a student learns. For example, they can allow a student to attend a school or take a course that they otherwise might not have been able to afford. They ensure that financial constraints do not prevent worthy students from taking advantage of higher education prospects. This expands success rates for students, even those who lack resources. 

Receiving a merit scholarship might also encourage other students to achieve academic or extracurricular success. This raises the standard of instruction and makes it more competitive overall. Students may be inspired to pursue greatness when they witness their classmates receiving praise and rewards for their accomplishments. This fosters a competitive, yet fulfilled environment.

How do merit scholarships reduce debts?

The ability of merit scholarships to lower student debt is one of their most important benefits. Students can defray a significant amount of their college costs, including tuition, fees, and room and board, by being awarded a merit scholarship. 

The total cost of attending college may vary significantly depending on the school you’d like to attend. Unfortunately, the weight of student loans might be too much for some private schools. Even so, students may lessen this load and graduate with less debt by applying for merit scholarships. After graduation, this gives students greater financial independence and lets them launch their jobs free from heavy debt obligations. 

Be aware, though, that even with the scholarship, you may still have to pay for some college costs.


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