What is a Merit Scholarship?

what is merit based scholarship

Anyone who has started thinking about getting a Master’s Degree or has been researching grad schools is aware that the degrees are quite expensive. Tuition, books, and living costs make up a huge investment and many people are reluctant to enroll in a program without looking at funding opportunities.

There are a ton of possibilities that grad students can use to go to grad school free of debt, but the best financing comes from a merit scholarship. Merit scholarships are exactly what their name suggests them to be, scholarships based on merit. They are granted to students who excel in academic or other university activities.

There are several reasons why merit scholarships are so sought after:

  • They are given to students as a reward for their hard work, which means that you can get them just by doing well in school.
  • They are given to a higher number of students per year.
  • Students can get them each year by maintaining a high enough GPA.
  • With very high GPAs, students could even get a full merit scholarship, which covers their entire tuition.
  • Students do not need to pay merit scholarships back.
  • Merit scholarships are either rewarded automatically or they might require only a few documents to prove the student’s achievements.

How To Get A Merit Scholarship?

Now that you know what a merit scholarship is, you most likely want to know how to get one. Here are a few tips about how to get a merit scholarship for graduate school:

Know that you want the scholarship early

If you are one of the lucky people who know they want to go to grad school after their Bachelor’s Degree, you most likely also want to know funding opportunities. Research them earlier and find out more about what each scholarship entails.

Have a good undergraduate GPA

Academic excellence is mostly rewarded for merit scholarships. When you apply to graduate programs, the first thing admissions officers will look at is your Grade Point Average (GPA) and grades. Having a good GPA goes a long way to helping you not only get admitted into a program, but also getting that merit scholarship you have been striving for.

Have good standardized test scores (GRE, GMAT; TOEFL, IELTS)

Besides a good undergraduate GPA, graduate schools also require standardized test scores. The most common graduate tests are the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Whichever one you have to take, make sure you get good scores on the test. If you haven’t done well on the first try, you can retake either the GRE or the GMAT and increase your scores. Universities look carefully at the scores of these tests when evaluating candidates for scholarships, so make sure you do well.

If you are an international student and want to attend an English speaking university, chances are you will be asked to submit English proficiency test scores. There are many tests for the English language, but the most accepted ones are the TOEFL and the IELTS tests. Submit good scores to increase your chances of getting a merit scholarship.

Get excellent recommendation letters

Another condition that you need to fulfill for graduate school is recommendation letters. Besides for admission, they are also taken into consideration when giving merit scholarships. Recommendation letters from distinguished professors, previous supervisors, or respected members of your community play an important role in getting you that merit scholarship for graduate school.

Compile a good statement of purpose or admissions essay

Universities also require an essay or a statement of purpose for graduate school applications. They evaluate your reasons for wanting to get a masters degree and why you think you are an ideal candidate. If you are not required to write such an essay, they will most likely want you to submit a research proposal.

Either way, make sure you submit a well written piece of work which highlights your achievements. The better your essay is at stating where your strengths lie, the more likely you are to get a merit scholarship.

Where To Get a Merit Scholarship?

Almost all graduate students who are looking into applying for a master’s degree, want to know where they could get a merit scholarship. If you want to qualify for this type of scholarship, here are a few tips you can follow to find universities where you could get the maximum amount of funding.

Research universities and their requirements

Each university has a set of criteria for admitting students into their graduate programs. They can vary from university to university, but they usually seek a good GPA, essays, and recommendation letters.

In the first stages of looking for merit scholarships, try to get the requirements of many universities, so that you can evaluate them later.

Research merit scholarships

The second step is to go through the university’s requirements for merit scholarships. Many of them list the requirements on their websites. However, if they have not been listed on the university website, contact them to ask about it.

Universities usually require a good academic record or excellence in some artistic, research, or athletic activity.

Evaluate your qualifications

Take your own qualifications and compare them with your researched universities. Start crossing off the ones where you do not meet the requirements. If your GPA is 3.68 and the university is looking for a GPA of 3.7 for a merit scholarship, chances are you will be disqualified.

It is better to not waste time and money by applying to universities where you have a low chance of getting a merit scholarship.

Make a list of universities you will apply to

Finally, after narrowing down the choices of universities, you will most likely have a list of about 5 to 9 universities that you can apply to. These are places where you are most likely to become admitted and get a merit scholarship.

How to keep a merit scholarship?

Once you get a merit scholarship when you are admitted into graduate school, it will be valid for one academic year. If your graduate program is longer than one year, you might have to consider how you will keep your merit scholarship for the next academic year too.

You can be awarded another merit scholarship for your second year of a master’s degree by doing the following:

Keep your GPA up

You are going to graduate school to learn, so you might as well study hard. It is true that grades don’t matter much and you should try to learn for getting more knowledge. However, when it comes to merit scholarships, grades are an important factor.

Universities want to encourage students to have a good GPA and so they reward those who have it with merit scholarships. You will be much more likely to get a merit scholarship for your second year of grad school if you have a high GPA.

What is a high GPA? That depends on the university. Some award partial merit scholarships to all students who have a GPA higher than 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Some have stricter requirements, and might have a cutoff criteria of 3.7.

Universities which offer full merit scholarships will most likely require a GPA of 3.8 and above.

Get to know your professors

Just as you evaluate your professors at the end of each semester, they also evaluate you at the end of the year. Professors play a major role in determining who gets scholarships, since they are the ones who grade you and know your potential.

That is why it’s important for you to spend some time getting to know your professors. Try participating in class, attending office hours, or even having a coffee with them. If the university has a certain number of merit scholarships reserved for students, professors will be asked to recommend students.

If they know you well and you have a good academic record, you will have higher chances of them recommending you.

Participate in university activities (art, athletics, etc.)

In addition to your academics, you could also try to participate and excel in a university activity. This could include art, research, athletics, or other clubs. Universities take into account your involvement and contribution to them too, so you increase your chances for a merit scholarship.

Activities are also good if you don’t have an outstanding academic record. You could make your case by excelling in a sport, which means that you do not have a lot of time to dedicate to keeping your GPA spotless.

Prepare your documents on time

If the university you are in requires an application for merit scholarships, make sure to get all the information. They could require recommendation letters, letters of activities from club leadership boards, and other documents. You should check out the deadline for the application and make sure to submit it complete and on time.

How is a student loan different from a scholarship?

Students are aware that funding opportunities for graduate school exist, they just might not be very familiar with them. A common confusion is the difference between a student loan and a scholarship.

Student loans are money that you borrow from an institution to be able to fund your education. You can pay tuition, books, and living costs with student loans. At the end of your degree when you graduate and find a job, you are required to slowly repay your student loan. If you are late with your payments, you might also be charged a small interest rate.  Since universities are expensive, especially graduate school, it might take years or even decades to pay back your student loans.

Scholarships on the other hand, are completely different. A scholarship is given to students based on their achievements and potential. Universities or other institutions give scholarships to students who do well in their graduate programs. The main difference is that you do not have to pay back scholarships. They are basically free money that the university gives you because you were a good student.

Other options to a merit scholarship

Merit scholarships are easy to get if you perform well academically. However, if you do not have a high enough GPA to qualify for merit scholarships, there are other ways through which you can finance your graduate school:

Financial Aid

Financial aid is the scholarship for students who can prove that they absolutely cannot afford their education. In the U.S for example, you would have to file the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) to the government. The reviewing committee then decides whether you qualify for the aid or not.

Financial aid can be given partially or as a full tuition payment, and does not need to be repaid.

Fellowships and Sponsorships

If you are an international student who wants to study abroad, you can apply for a fellowship or a sponsorship. These are scholarships, which are financed by governments or international organizations. They cover your full tuition and living expenses. The only condition might be that after graduation, you will be required to go back to your home country and get a job through which you can apply the knowledge you gained.

Examples of such sponsorships include the Fulbright Scholarship or the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship.

Work study opportunities

Another way to finance your Master’s Degree is to also try and get part time jobs at the university you are in. The wages will not be enough to cover your entire tuition, but they might cover your living costs.

You could work at the university diner or in the fitness centers. If you qualify, the best jobs, though include teaching and research assistantships. These are positions where you work directly with a professor to help with preparing lectures, grading papers and exams, assisting with research and so on.

In general, merit scholarships are the best option to finance your graduate school degree, so make sure to keep your grades up and work hard.