Merit scholarships are typically awarded on the basis of academic, athletic or artistic merit, in addition to special interests. Some merit scholarships also consider financial need, but rewarding talent is the primary objective.
In most cases the scholarship sponsor has a set of criteria they use to select the winners from among the qualified applicants. Sponsors can have a variety of goals in offering a scholarship. Some companies offer scholarships as a form of community development, to invest in the future of the communities where they are based. Others offer scholarships to help retain current employees and recruit future employees.
Colleges may offer scholarships to recruit a talented and diverse student body. They may also offer scholarships in specific majors to encourage students to enroll in underrepresented majors (e.g., scholarships for women and minorities in science and engineering). Membership organizations tend to offer scholarships to promote their field or the mission of the organization. Other scholarships may be established to honor the memory of someone who has passed away, to provide a legacy that perpetuates his or her values.
The first step is to make sure you qualify for the scholarship. If the application requirements specify that you must have a 3.7 or higher GPA, and you have a 3.6 GPA, don’t bother applying. Most scholarship sponsors receive so many qualified applications that they do not have the time to consider applications that fail to satisfy the requirements. You may be a wonderful and talented person, but if your application is not qualified, the selection committee is not going to look at it.
On the other hand, if you barely miss the application requirements, you should try to improve until you qualify. For example, if you have a 3.6 GPA and the award requires a 3.7 GPA to apply, you could try working hard in school to improve your grades until you achieve a 3.7 GPA. This is why it is worthwhile to search for scholarships as soon as possible. Many awards also have prerequisites, such as requiring a portfolio of your work or a project report, which can take time to prepare.
The Fastweb scholarship search will only show you awards that match your profile. Fastweb has the tightest match of any scholarship database, so you’re less likely to waste time on awards for which you aren’t qualified.
You can help your odds of winning by applying for less competitive scholarships, such as local awards. For example, college juniors and seniors have a better chance of winning a scholarship, since fewer upperclassmen apply for scholarships. But don’t neglect the more competitive national scholarships, since these also tend to be more lucrative.
See also Fastweb’s two-page quick reference guide on winning a scholarship for the top twelve tips on winning a scholarship, common scholarship application mistakes and a variety of top ten scholarship lists. Fastweb, the leading free scholarship search site, has more hints and tips to winning a scholarships.