Impact Advisors Group | College Planning

What Are Competitive Merit Scholarships?

When most people think about merit scholarships, they think of a competitive elimination process where the smartest candidates battle it out. Almost like the TV show, Survivor, every person who applies for the scholarship goes head to head, and only a few winners emerge. 

While such an image is not precisely representative of the scholarship selection process, it is also not entirely wrong. Candidates do compete with each other, and not everybody who applies will receive a scholarship. However, that selection process varies depending on the type of scholarship. This blog will explore Competitive Merit Scholarships, their different subcategories, and the role that such scholarships can play in financing your student’s education.

The 3 Competitive Merit Scholarship Categories

Competitive Merit Scholarships are gift aid offered directly by colleges to a limited number of applicants. Given the scholarships’ competitive nature, no student has a guaranteed spot, unlike Automatic Merit Scholarships. Within Competitive Merit Scholarships, there are three main types:

1. “Close to” Automatic Scholarships – Sometimes, colleges disguise Competitive Merit Scholarships as Automatic Scholarships. At first glance, the college seems to consider everyone for the scholarship, but read closely, and you may see that it is a Competitive Scholarship. Phrases such as “may be eligible” or “eligible to be considered” hint at the fact that the scholarship may be competitive. These are not guaranteed amounts and you can’t count on these scholarships to discount your tuition. If your student is applying to schools that offer this type of competitive scholarship, the approach will be “apply and wait to see what you are offered.”

2. “Black Box” Scholarships – In the software development world, a “black box” is a system or application where a user inputs something and receives an output. However, the user has no idea what happened in the black box to create the result. In college applications, “Black Box” Scholarships do not tell students how schools pick winners. Colleges usually list the bare minimum requirements, but nothing further. 

3. Competition Scholarships – If your student needs to fill out an application, write supplemental essays, undergo an interview, take an exam, present, or go to campus for any other kind of weeding-out process, they are applying for a Competition Scholarship. After all the applicants complete the process, either a tiny number of students win a large amount of money, or a larger group earns a smaller scholarship amount. 

Competitive Merit Scholarships and Paying for College

Now that you know about the different types and processes colleges use to determine the winners of Competitive Merit Scholarships, are they worth your student’s time? Can you count on them for financial relief?

Unlike Automatic Merit Scholarships, Competitive Merit Scholarships are not a certain source of money. Instead, there is a chance (possibly a very high chance depending on the scholarship) that your student will not win the money. Even if your student is academically qualified, they will not always come out on top. Sometimes, schools look for particular types of people to grant such scholarships. 

With that said, it is still worth going after Competitive Merit Scholarships. As long as your student meets the scholarship’s requirements, there is always a chance that they will win. Even if it is only a small chance, you never know the outcome until the school decides. 

If a school is way out of your realm of financial viability, and the only way your student can attend that school is by winning a Competitive Merit Scholarship, do not count on that deep discount. While it is possible for your student to succeed, having them set their heart on a school that is, in reality, an unlikely possibility is a recipe for heartbreak. Competitive Merit Scholarships are a worthwhile but not surefire way to make expensive universities viable. 

How Can My Child Find Competitive Merit Scholarships?

Colleges are the largest source of Competitive Merit Scholarships. However, combing through colleges’ websites searching for every possible Competitive Merit Scholarship is time-consuming and confusing. Further, organizing that scholarship data into an understandable format makes the task impractical at best.

We subscribe to a college-based scholarship search tool allow our clients access every Competitive Merit Scholarship to give your student the greatest chance of winning. 

This tool prioritizes adding new scholarships to the database with regular updates. If your student wants to put themselves out there and apply for Competitive Merit Scholarships, we can help to find the ones that fit your student best!

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