Applying for College-Specific Scholarships

Paying for college is a frequent concern for students, as tuition costs rise every year. Many schools have scholarships to offset these costs. Some schools allow you to contend for these scholarships with no additional effort; merely applying to the school is enough. Other schools have scholarships which you have to apply to separately.

These are usually prestigious merit-based scholarships. Only merit scholarships require an extra application since they often want to see whether you deserve the scholarship money. While we won’t be able to cover all possible merit scholarships, we’ll introduce you to a number of prestigious ones in this article. Let’s get started!

A Note on the Ivy League

Ivy League schools, and institutions of similar stature, do not grant merit scholarships. This includes schools like Stanford, Caltech, and MIT. Every student who is admitted to these schools has demonstrated incredible academic and extracurricular merit; if they didn’t they would not have gotten into the school.

The Ivy League has an agreement within itself not to grant athletic scholarships, and other merit scholarships as well. While this is debated, for now, the policy stands. 

The point of merit scholarships is not just to defray the costs of tuition, but to entice the brightest students to attend a particular school. The Ivy League, and schools of similar prestige, have no need for this. Their prestige alone is enough to guarantee that students will flock to them. Merit aid is thus unnecessary from their point of view.

They do provide substantial need-based aid and have much higher cutoffs for those who qualify for this aid than other schools. All of these institutions guarantee that 100% of demonstrated financial needs will be met. Thus you can still receive scholarships, and very generous ones when applying to Ivy League schools. They simply will not be merit scholarships.

University of Michigan

UMich offers the Joseph M. Geisinger Scholarship. This is offered to engineering students from outside of Michigan (check the page to see which states of origin qualify), and grants $20,000 per year to cover tuition costs. You must apply for this scholarship before February; you can submit the application before you hear about admissions from UMich.

The scholarship application may be done entirely online and is separate from your application to the school. You must list and describe up to five activities, and then have 1,500 characters to describe how one of those activities has impacted you. This comes out to around 250 words, depending on how verbose you are. They then ask for a list of any awards or honors you have won. You may copy both your activities and your honors off of the Common App.

They also ask for a personal essay. Here is the prompt: 

Please attach a one-page personal essay (PDF preferred; Microsoft Word also accepted) based on what you hope to accomplish with a college education in engineering. Please use your essay to help the Scholarship Selection Committee better understand your thoughts and feelings about the importance of a career in engineering.

You will have written a similar essay to this when answering one of the essays prompts UMich requires for admissions; we suggest reworking that essay to better fit this prompt. This essay should look to the future, and discuss what you hope to accomplish from a career in engineering. Like many scholarships, this one is looking for students eager to give back to the world, who will use their education to measurably improve the lives of others.

Georgia Tech

All students who apply to Georgia Tech must submit an additional application in order to be considered for financial aid. This comes on top of filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and filling out the CSS Profile. This is not an involved application, though you need a Georgia Tech ID to fill it out. You can find more information here.

UNC Chapel Hill

Most of the scholarships offered by this school only require that you apply to the school. There is, however, a prestigious scholarship for students who wish to pursue creative writing. This is the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship. This is only awarded to a single student each year but offers full financial support for four years.

In order to apply for this scholarship, you must apply to Chapel Hill by the early admissions deadline (October 15th), and must submit between 40-50 pages of original written material as a portfolio. This is judged on its artistic merit. This may be poetry, fiction, plays, or creative nonfiction. The material may come from multiple genres, indeed, this is encouraged.

Further, you must submit a 500-word essay entitled “Why I Write.” This should explain and explore that topic. You will also need three letters of recommendation, at least one of which must come from a teacher. These should speak to your creativity and ambition. We recommend asking the same teachers who wrote letters of recommendation for your college applications to write these letters.

Your application for this scholarship must be submitted separately from your application to the school as a whole.

University of Virginia

The Jefferson Scholars Foundation awards the Jefferson Scholarship. This provides funding for four years of tuition, plus offers to fund for study abroad and other academic opportunities. Unlike other scholarships, you must be nominated for this scholarship by your high school.

This is something to discuss with your high school counselor if you are applying to the University of Virginia since they are the ones who must nominate you. You should be able to demonstrate your academic skill, leadership potential and experience, and contributions to the community; nominating you isn’t something you should need to convince your counselor of. 

Once you are nominated, you will need to complete two essays, and submit a scholastic report and a list of your extracurricular activities. This will mirror your Common App, but the selection committee does not have access to that.

If you are selected as a finalist, you will have to go through one or more interviews. After these finalists are invited to the school’s campus, where they undergo another interview and participate in a written assessment. This is a very intensive process, but the goal of the committee is to locate the brightest students the world over and take this task quite seriously.

Lehigh University

All of Lehigh’s academic merit scholarships are open to all applicants, with no additional components needed. They also offer a number of artistic merit scholarships, these must be applied to separately, and are contingent on your participation in the art form in question (i.e. If you are awarded the theatre scholarship, you are required to maintain an active presence in the theatre department, regardless of your major). 

These scholarships all require an online application, most of which have an audition component. See our guide for art students for advice on college auditions.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer offers the Rensselaer Medal, which offers $30,000 of tuition benefits per year for four years to outstanding math and science students. You do not apply for this, instead, you must be nominated by your school. If you are a very strong student in math and sciences and are applying to RPI, bring this award to the attention of your counselors. Each school may only nominate a single student each year.

Southern Methodist University

Most of the merit awards at SMU are offered to all applicants, but you must apply to the Hunt Leadership Scholars program separately to be considered. This award is for $42,000 per year for four years.

You are required to apply online. An additional essay and recorded video statement uploaded to Youtube are required as part of your application. You must be in the top 25% of your high school class to be considered. The scholarship is looking for students who have demonstrated great academic achievement and significant leadership.


All students are considered for partial tuition merit scholarships, but Tulane also offers a number of merit scholarships that cover full tuition and which require an additional application. These are The Deans’ Honor Scholarship, The Paul Tulane Award, and the Stamps Scholarship (which you apply to by applying to either of the two preceding awards). 

You can find out more about these scholarships on Tulane’s site here.

Final Thoughts

Colleges know that costs have risen, and while they can’t help offset them for every student, they do offer significant scholarship opportunities to some. Few students realize these awards exist, and competition for them is often lower than that for admission. This does not make them easy to get, but knowing about them is half the battle.
If you want help applying to colleges in the first place, or want to build a college list that maximizes your chance of financial aid, schedule a free consultation with us. We have long experience helping students with every aspect of college applications and are always happy to hear from you.

Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!