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Merit aid is a type of financial aid that is extended to students. Unlike other forms of financial aid, this particular approach does not take into consideration the financial situation of the student. Instead, merit aid focuses on some attribute of the student, such as a talent or academic achievement. Many colleges and universities around the world provide access to at least a limited range of scholarships, grants, and discounts that are based on merit rather than need.
One of the more common examples of merit aid is the academic scholarship. In this scenario, the ability to secure the aid is based solely on the grade point average of the student. In order to renew the scholarship from one academic year to the next, the student must maintain the GPA required by the terms of the scholarship. Failure to do so leads to the withdrawal of the aid, although many universities will allow students to reapply for the academic scholarship once the grades are once more within the desired range.
Another example of merit aid is an athletic scholarship. With this type of financial aid, students who are talented in specific sports are provided with a scholarship to help defray a significant amount of the costs of attending college. In return, the student actively participates in the sports program of the institution. Typically, most athletic scholarships will also require that the student maintain a certain level or range of grades in order to be allowed to participate in the sports program and thus continue to enjoy the benefits of the financial aid.
Along with scholarships, merit aid may be in the form of a grant or even a discount. With a grant, the student must reapply for the aid, meeting the criteria put in place by the institution. A discount program works in a similar manner, requiring that the student meet the qualifications in order to receive discounts on tuition, books and supplies, and housing for an upcoming academic period.
Unlike scholarships and other forms of aid offered by government programs or private scholarship funds, the college or university where the student is enrolled normally extends the merit aid. Along with aid for academic and athletic achievements, aid programs that focus on drama, music, or even certain demographic characteristics are often available. Most institutions will help students identify any aid programs that they may qualify for and even assist those students in applying for the aid as part of the enrollment process.