The Best University-Based Merit Scholarships

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If you're applying to one of these universities, consider submitting an application to their merit scholarship programs, too. These massive awards include full-tuition scholarships, room and board, summer program funding, special on-campus opportunities, and more. Be sure to check each scholarship's website for specific dates and deadlines. 


Duke University / UNC Chapel Hill – Robertson Scholars Leadership Program

Deadline: Mid-November 

What You Get: The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program includes a 4-year full tuition scholarship to Duke or UNC Chapel Hill, plus room and board. You’ll benefit from the resources of both schools, as you’ll have to take a minimum of 5 classes at whichever institution you don’t attend. Scholars also receive access to funding for up to three domestic or international summer experiences.

What You Need to Do: Complete the Robertson Scholars application (which includes letters of recommendation) by the November 15 deadline. You’ll need to submit your Duke and/or UNC Chapel Hill applications by the regular decision deadlines. Review the official Robertson Scholars website for more details.


Emory University – Robert W. Woodruff Scholars

Deadline: Mid-November 

What You Get: The Robert W. Woodruff Emory Scholars program includes a 4-year full-tuition scholarship to Emory, plus room and board.  Robert W. Woodruff Scholars also receive funding for summer programs in the U.S. and abroad as well as access to special events and campus resources. Emory also offers additional scholarships through its Emory Scholars program, so be sure to review the complete scholarship listing.

What You Need to Do: This scholarship is aimed at students who demonstrate qualities of “forceful and unselfish character, intellectual and personal vigor, outstanding academic achievement, impressive skills in communication, significant leadership and creativity in school or community, and clear potential for enriching the lives of their contemporaries.” If that sounds like you, ask your school guidance counselor to submit a nomination, and apply through the standard Emory admissions process.


Washington University St. Louis – Honorary Scholars Program

Deadline: Early January 

What You Get: Through the Honorary Scholars Program, WashU awards 16 full-tuition and half-tuition scholarships to students across the country.  Some Scholars also receive stipends. As an Honorary Scholar, you’ll work closely with faculty to design an academic program tailored specifically to your areas of interest. WashU also offers many other scholarships for first-year students, so be sure to review the complete scholarship listing. 

What You Need to Do: WashU Honorary Scholars typically rank in the top 10% of their class and have high SAT/ACT scores. All applicants must complete 4 short answer questions and a 750-word essay. Applicants must select their field of interest (mathematics, physical sciences, humanities, or social sciences) during the application process. You will be asked to pick a major, but if you’re undecided, just select a major that appeals to you right now; Honorary Scholars are permitted to change their major.


Vanderbilt University – Ingram Scholars, Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholars, and Chancellor Scholars

Deadline: Early December 

What You Get: Each year, Vanderbilt awards merit-based scholarships to the top 1% of the entire freshman applicant pool. Vanderbilt offers three signature scholarship programs: Ingram Scholars, Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholars, and Chancellor Scholars. The Ingram Scholarship Program is for students planning a business career who have demonstrated a strong commitment to community service. Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholars are students with strong academic achievement as well as outstanding leadership outside of school. The Chancellor’s Scholarship is for those students who in addition to stellar academic achievement have strived to bridge gaps among diverse groups throughout their high school experience. Recipients of these scholarships are granted full tuition, summer stipends for one summer study abroad, research, or service projects. Costs for room and board can be funded by other scholarships, financial aid, or self-pay.

What You Need to Do: To be considered for the Vanderbilt signature merit scholarships, you must first apply for admission to Vanderbilt University. Once your application is received, you’ll receive an email from admissions within two business days explaining how to create your Vanderbilt online account. Under the Scholarship Application option in your account, you’ll be able to select the signature scholarship(s) to which you wish to apply. The application for the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship is required. For the Ingram Scholarship Program and Chancellor's Scholarship, the application is strongly encouraged; preference is given to those who apply. Scholarships are renewable annually through senior year contingent on the maintenance of a 3.0 minimum GPA.  International students are considered for these merit scholarships.


Boston College – Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program

Deadline: Early November (must submit at the same time as standard application)

What You Get: Each year, Boston College awards 15 merit scholarships to the top freshman early applicants under the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program. Scholars receive a merit scholarship that covers full tuition at BC, regardless of financial need. If the merit award does not meet their financial aid requirements, Scholars receive additional grant and aid resources sufficient to meet full need. The cost of summer programs for each summer after freshman, sophomore, and junior years is covered by a separate award.

What You Need to Do: A separate application is not required to be considered for the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program. While no minimum GPA or SAT score is required, scholarship recipients are in the top 1%-2% of freshman applicants, have outstanding academic records, hold leadership roles in their school community, and have a demonstrated interest in community service. Finalists are invited to visit Boston College at the University’s expense for interviews and to participate in experiences meant to evaluate each candidate. Scholars maintaining a 3.5 GPA and showing a high level of citizenship remain in the program all 4 years.  International students are also considered for these scholarships.


University of Virginia – Jefferson Scholars

Deadline: Early December 

What You Get: Each year, UVA awards 36 Jefferson Scholars merit scholarships. The scholarship covers the entire cost of attendance for four years plus the cost of supplemental enrichment experiences including foreign travel studies, career counseling, and enrichment dinners. 

What You Need to Do: You must be nominated by your high school to be eligible for the Jefferson Scholarship. Each eligible high school may nominate one or, under exceptional circumstances, two seniors with “uncommon” academic abilities, exceptional leadership, and an understanding of the broader community. After receiving a nomination, school officials must submit a school report, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, and two essays. Application must be completed by December 1. 120 finalists are invited to Charlottesville for selection weekend in late March. International students are also considered for these scholarships.


Clemson University — National Scholars Program

Deadline:  Early/Mid-December

What You Get: Each year, Clemson awards 8 merit scholarships through the National Scholars Program. The scholarship includes 4 years’ tuition and fees, an allowance each semester for room, board, and supplies, and a group summer study abroad experience after the first year.

What You Need to Do: Apply to both Clemson and the Calhoun Honors College within the priority application deadlines. There is no separate scholarship application. Finalists will be invited for a National Scholars Program weekend in March for interviews and activities that determine who is selected for the program. The program is open to U.S. citizens.


USC – Various Merit Scholarships

Deadline: December

What You Get: Each year, USC offers over 100 full tuition and 200 half tuition scholarships. The Trustee, Mork Family, and Stamp Scholarships all cover full tuition costs. The Mork Family Scholarship adds a $5,000 annual stipend for housing and the Stamps Scholarship includes a $20,000 enrichment fund for opportunities such as study abroad, unpaid internships, and summer research.

What You Need to Do:  All students who submit an application to USC by the December deadline will be considered. There is no separate scholarship application. International students are eligible.


University of Alabama – Various Merit Scholarships

Deadline: Mid-December

What You Get:  University of Alabama offers several merit scholarships for out-of-state residents. Scholarships range from $5,000 per year to $25,000 per year. With the Presidential Elite Scholarship, students with a perfect GPA and SAT or ACT score will receive full tuition for 4 years of undergraduate study and graduate or law studies. Other perks of this generous scholarship include a stipend of $1,000 per year for 4 years, a $2,000 book scholarship, and $2,000 for summer research or international study.

What You Need to Do: To First-time freshmen who meet the December 15 scholarship deadline, earn a qualifying score on the ACT or SAT, and have at least a 3.5 cumulative high school GPA through junior year will be eligible to apply for these merit-based scholarships. Once you submit your U of Alabama application, you’ll be able to complete the separate scholarship application through the myBama portal.


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