Category Archives: Scholarships

Understanding National Merit Scholarships

The (PSAT/NMSQT) is a program co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, with the goal of “honoring scholastically talented youth and encouraging academic excellence at all levels of education.”  The National Merit Scholarship program recognizes top students based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT, and the test is administered across the country in October every year. Out of the 1.6 million students who sit for the exam, honors are awarded to about 50,000 with the highest combined score on the two sections of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math.

These recognized students are classified into several categories: commended, semifinalists, finalists, and scholarship winners. Of the 50,000 students initially selected, one-third are “semi-finalists,” based on state cut-offs; and two-thirds are deemed “commended,” based on national cut-offs. For the Class of 2019, the highest semi-finalist qualifying score of 223 was for the states of California, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and 222 served as the semi-finalist qualifying score for Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington. North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the lowest qualifying score, 212. Out of the 16,000 national semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high academic grades and an application essay.

Only about .5% of the original pool of test-takers become scholarship winners. National Merit Scholarships are awarded to 2,500 students and consist of a single payment of $2,500. In addition, about 230 corporations and 180 colleges provide National Merit scholarships.

College-Sponsored Scholarships

Colleges in the Ivy League do not participate in NMS, as they do not offer any merit-based financial aid. However, the following institutions offer generous scholarships through the National Merit program:

  • Boston University: Finalists receive 4-year $20,000 tuition BU Presidential Scholarship
  • Fordham University: Scholarship for Semifinalists is awarded to finalists and semifinalists in NMS who have an A or A- average and are in the top 2-3% of all admitted students
  • Northeastern University: Admitted students who are recognized as National Merit Finalists will receive a competitive merit-based award
  • Texas A&M University: Scholarship package of $42,000 for residents, approximately $100,000 for non-residents due to out-of-state tuition waver
  • USC: Finalists receive 4-year half-tuition (about $27,000) Presidential Scholarship
  • University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $63,000 cumulative total over 4 years; semi-finalists receive $16,000 total.

The University of Oklahoma is an example of an institution that sees enormous value in attracting National Merit scholars, enrolling about 200 per year. David Ray, Dean of the Honors College, states “Having these kinds of classmates motivates other students, it elevates class discussions, it’s a recruiting tool when we go after new students or faculty.”

Corporate-Sponsored Scholarships

CBS, the Dow Jones Foundation, FedEx, Macy’s Inc., and Pfizer Inc. are a few of the corporations that sponsor scholarships. According to NMSC, “Most corporate-sponsored awards are designated for children of a sponsor’s employees or members. However, some are offered for residents of a community where a company has operations or for students with college major or career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage.”

These awards may be given on a one-time basis or for all four years of college. Currently, there are 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. In addition, every year about 1,100 National Merit participants who are not Finalists receive Special Scholarships provided by businesses.

Navigating merit scholarships and taking advantage of any and all merit aid opportunities can seem daunting! Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are happy to help!

Merit Scholarships from Colleges

As college admissions have become more competitive and the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket, schools are offering more and more merit scholarships to entice top-tier students to attend and increase affordability. Applicants now have access to a wider range of non need-based scholarships, based on talent in academics and other areas.  Each college has its own method of awarding funds, so it is important to research the merit aid process at each school on your college list.

Some colleges, such as Tulane, automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. However, other schools, including Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University,  require applicants to complete a separate merit scholarship application and/or essay. Some institutions have an early cut-off date—such as November 15th in the case of Emory—by which students in contention for merit aid must apply. Finally, there are also colleges like the University of Rochester that offer further merit scholarships to returning students, in addition to any money they were promised as incoming freshmen.

Factors that Determine Merit Aid

Schools determine which candidates will receive merit awards by weighing a variety of factors including grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of the student’s high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.

Keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by your extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles.  Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships. Colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, athletic, service or career interests.

Automatic Consideration

Some colleges, such as TulaneOberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Schools such as Lehigh and USC also offer a wide array of merit scholarship opportunities. Most colleges will consider students for merit aid just based on the application for admission, but some require that students complete the FAFSA or to click “yes” on the Common Application to being considered for merit scholarships at that particular school.

By Application

Some schools require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid and require the submission of additional essays.  The Premier Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis requires a separate application and participation in an all-expenses-paid weekend program for scholarship finalists during March.

At Vanderbilt University, once a student applies for admission, they are emailed within two days to set up their MyAppVU account, which has a scholarship section to be completed by December 1st in order to be considered for all merit scholarships at Vanderbilt.

Schools that Award High Percentages of Merit Aid

The following chart lists a selection of schools that awarded the most merit aid to students who “had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid” for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

School % of Students Receiving Non-Need Based Aid
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering 53%
Cooper Union 46%
Denison University 41%
Oberlin College 41%
Fairfield University 40%
University of Denver 40%
Tulane University 39%
University of Portland 39%
The New School 38%
Case Western Reserve University 33%
Clark University 33%
St. Michael’s College 33%
Hobart and William Smith Colleges 32%
Muhlenberg College 32%
Drexel University 31%
University of Vermont 31%

 

Benefits Associated with Merit Scholarships

When evaluating different options, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities, such as access to leadership and study abroad programs, and internships with program alumni.

Another example is the Bonner Scholars Program at the University of Richmond, which is tied to a deep commitment to community service. Scholarship recipients intern for 10 hours a week for four years at an organization that aligns with their service goals. Bonner Scholars also participate in on-campus reflective exercises and educational programming.

The Emory Scholars Program offers unique programming, a strong community, early class registration, as well as other benefits.

College is expensive, and there are many paths to finding your “best-fit” as well as maximizing the best deal. For more guidance and information on college-sponsored merit scholarships, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help.

Seeking Out Local Scholarships

Faced with the rising price of a college education, students and parents often look for ways to lower costs. As a result, scholarships for need, merit, athletics, community service, hobbies, and other interests are often highly sought after—especially large scholarships offered on a national level.

However, students should also consider scholarship sources closer to home. Local businesses, religious or ethnic organizations, and other venues often acknowledge hometown students by helping with college costs through scholarships that are awarded on a yearly basis. And while a $1,000 local scholarship may seem small in comparison to the large sticker price of college, winning several of these scholarships could help to offset the cost of room and board, books, and some tuition.

According to the CollegeBoard, local scholarships have an advantage over national scholarships: they are only available to a smaller pool of applicants from a specific geographic region. Because there is less competition, the chances of winning are higher. Students should still apply to national scholarships that are meaningful to them, but it is also important to research the scholarships offered to your specific high school, town, county, and state.

Now, local scholarships may seem like a great idea, but how to begin? We hope to guide you on a path to finding your best-fit local scholarships in this blog.


When should I start looking for local scholarships?

It is best to start researching scholarships by the spring and summer of junior year, as most deadlines for these awards are in the fall of senior year.


How do I find local scholarships?

High school
The way to begin is to ask the guidance office at your high school for a list of local scholarships. For example, Schreiber High School in Port Washington, NY, has an extensive list of local scholarships available to its high school students. Another group to ask within your high school is the PTA. Scarsdale High School in New York offers a PTA scholarship that awards college-bound seniors a one-time grant ranging from $1,000 to $7,500.

Local businesses
Next, look into scholarships from the companies or organizations where your parents are employed. Many companies offer scholarships to the children of employees, and the Human Resources department or your supervisor will most likely have this information. Many employee scholarships are also merit-based, rather than solely need-based.

Religious and ethnic organizations
Additionally, explore the groups that you and your family belong to. Religious and ethnic organizations often have scholarships that are awarded to the children of members. For example, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Elks, and Lions Club all offer national as well as local scholarship opportunities. If applicable, your place of worship may be aware of local scholarship opportunities that hope to assist members of your faith.

Additional sources
Other places to check include your town or community website and local media websites (TV, newspapers, and radio stations). Additionally, your library’s reference section may have a list of scholarships offered by town businesses or civic groups.

To cast a wider net, you can research the offerings of your state grant agency. Each state has scholarship opportunities for its residents. In taking a closer look at New York, for example, The Scholarship For Academic Excellence is intended for students who will attend a New York college, and is based on the results of the Regents exam.

Additionally, many scholarships in New York and elsewhere pay particular attention to applicants pursuing certain high demand fields. The NYS STEM Incentive Program provides a full SUNY or CUNY tuition scholarship for the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school. Note though, that this scholarship (like many others of its kind) comes with conditions: awarded students must often either remain in the state or work in their particular field for a certain period of time. In the above example, students must pursue a STEM major and agree to work in a STEM field in New York State for five years after graduation.

What are the requirements?

Local scholarship competitions often ask for a completed FAFSA form, and may ask for tax returns/W2 forms (from student and parents), a copy of your transcript, letters of recommendation, and student-written essays. Many local scholarships also require you to take the PSAT/NMSQT by the fall of your junior year.

Finally, it is important to meet all scholarship deadlines, follow scholarship application directions, and gather your application materials early.

Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are happy to help you throughout your college search. Feel free to contact us!

National Essay Contests

If you’re a high school student who enjoys writing, there are plenty of national essay contests you can participate in – many of which include large rewards for the winners and finalists!

Awards range from monetary scholarships, cash amounts, all-expenses paid trips, and even donations to school libraries. For example, the JFK Profile in Courage Essay Contest combines scholarships, cash awards and travel: the winner receives a $5,000 cash award, $5,000 to invest in a college savings plan, and travel and lodging expenses to attend the ceremony in Boston.

Each contest has its own requirements, including the deadline, and the topic and length of the essay.. There are a variety of categories for these essay contests, including Literary Analysis, Politics & History, Personal Reflection, and those geared to specific career fields such as science or journalism.

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis essay contests are based on a specific piece of literature, and they are judged on both writing style and content. Judges look for writing that is clear, articulate and logically organized. Student should demonstrate a solid grasp of the themes and messages in the novel or play about which they’re writing. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute hosts yearly essay contests for students from 8th grade through graduate school. Currently, topics center on three of Rand’s popular novels, Anthem (8th, 9th, 10th), Atlas Shrugged (12th grade, college and graduate), and The Fountainhead (11th, 12th).

Penguin’s national essay contest, The 19th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest is offered to students in 11th or 12th grade. This contest focuses on the plays Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and requires students to choose one of six topics. The topics include questions about character relationships, alternate endings, and the role of song and expanded scenes.

Politics & History

Common themes of national essay contests include modern-day politics, past figures, and historical ideals or philosophies. These essays are analytical in nature and tend to be an opportunity for students to develop and enhance research, writing and critical thinking skills.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation invites high school students to “consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a US elected official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient” through  The Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Students ar required to write an essay of 700 to 1,000 words, and to use at least five varied sources.

Open to all high school students, the Sons of the American Revolution offers the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest. The topic should deal with an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta or the framing of the United States Constitution. Sources must include published book sources, and the essays are judged on historical accuracy, clarity of thought, organization, grammar, and documentation.

Personal Reflection

A plethora of essay contests allow students to submit reflections of a more personal – rather than historical or literary – nature. Many offer opportunities to reflect on a personal hero, such as the essay required for the National World War II Museum’s Annual Essay Contest. This competition  asks the question, “How do you define a hero?” and requires students to use World War II as a starting point. Though based in a historical context, essays should be written using examples from students’ own lives and experiences.

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) hosts an essay contest for students in 7th through 12th grade. The essay only 350 words, and has the theme “Why I am proud to be an American.” Similarly, the Joe Foss Institute’s Hayes C Kirby Essay Scholarship Contest asks students to respond to “I love my country because…” with a minimum of 1500 words. It encourages entrants to be creative, while developing a clearly defined theme.

Specific Career Fields

Some essay contests focus on a specific field of study or career path. For example, The DuPont Challenge is a science essay contest for 6th through 12th graders. It offers four focus areas, with topics including economics growth, nutritious food sources, a secure energy future, protecting people and the environment, and research-oriented STEM innovations.

For those interested in writing and journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists offers a high school essay contest in order to “increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media.” In a 300-500 word essay, students respond to the topic, “Why is it important for journalists to seek the news and report it?”

Students with an interest and talent in writing should explore the many opportunities that lie within national essay contests. With such a wide range of topics, there’s something for everyone, and you may even start to build up some funds for college!

Of course, there are many more essay competitions and scholarship opportunities than are mention here. If you’d like to learn more, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.