How to Turn ACT and SAT Scores into Scholarship Money

Did you know that you could secure a great scholarship based on your ACT, SAT, and even PSAT score?! Some of these scholarships are even granted automatically, no application required.

Bruce H.

By Bruce H.

Posted April 18, 2024

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There are literally thousands and thousands of academic scholarships available for incoming college students. And good ACT or SAT scores make students eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, and possibly free tuition for all four years!

And remember, the ACT and SAT aren’t mythical beasts – they can be learned and mastered. I’ve been helping students ace these tests for over 10 years. I’d love to help you too! If you’d like to get a higher score, schedule an intro call to talk through your goals.

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Now, ready to jump in and find some sweet scholarship money? C’mon and follow me.

Having great test scores and a lot of scholarship opportunities is both a good thing (yay! scholarship money) and a bad thing (boo! yet another thing to figure out in this college admissions process).

Never fear. While I can’t possibly identify every scholarship out there, I can make it much easier for you to find the right scholarships for you and your family.

In this article, we’ll break down the academic scholarship world into three types, talk about the best way to approach each type, and then give you clear and specific examples to make sure you’re as informed as possible.

I should mention one caveat before we jump in: scholarships can and do change without notice. I’ve provided the most updated information that I could find, but please make sure to check and verify the information of any scholarship you’re interested in.

Here are the three main types of academic scholarships:

  1. National Merit Scholarships
  2. Private Scholarships
  3. College and University Scholarships

National Merit Scholarship

National Merit Scholarships are extremely valuable and are open to anyone who would like to compete for one. And, because National Merit Scholarships are attached to your PSAT score, they are only slightly less difficult to understand than particle physics.

This is what you need to know:

  • National Merit Scholars are based on a student’s score on the PSAT/NMSQT (as opposed to the PSAT/8-9 or the PSAT 10 ― I told you this was confusing).
  • The PSAT/NMSQT is usually only given two times per year (usually in October and January).
  • The PSAT/NMSQT score that counts for scholarships is almost always taken in your junior year!
  • The test is administered through high schools.
  • If a junior takes the PSAT/NMSQT test ― they are automatically enrolled in the competition.
  • The rules can get fiddly. Head here for more info.

How the National Merit Scholarship Competition Works

Each year, about 1.5 million students enter the competition. As mentioned above, juniors taking the PSAT/NMSQT are automatically entered into the competition and awards are given to top scorers.

The Rewards

  • “Commended” ― Awarded to the top 96th percentile (about 50,000 students)
  • “Semifinalist” ― Awarded to about 16,000 students
  • “Finalist” ― About 15,000 students (they must submit SAT scores that confirm the PSAT/NMSQT score along with an essay and an application)

Finalists receive a scholarship award of $2,500. That’s not bad, but that’s not why you want to be a National Merit Scholar finalist.

The Real Rewards

Qualifying for any National Merit Scholar award is immediately a huge gold star on your application. Many colleges and universities offer very, very attractive scholarships for National Merit Scholars, outside of what you get from the organization.

This chart is just a small sample of colleges and universities that offer scholarships based on this competition. This is in no way an exhaustive list ― many other colleges and universities offer similar scholarships. It’s definitely worth a phone call to your target schools to find out what they offer.

Note that there are specific rules and financial aid considerations as well, so make sure to look through all the details.

UniversityScholarship
University of Southern CaliforniaHalf tuition (approximately $29,630)
University of OklahomaFull tuition (approximately $24,000)
University of ChicagoStarting at $8,000 per year
Vanderbilt CollegeFrom $8,000 to $20,000 per year for 4 years
University of Texas$4,000 per semester plus a $6,000 study abroad stipend
Texas A&MUp to $28,000
University of Alabama5 years of free tuition plus housing and expenses stipend
University of ArizonaUp to $72,000 over 4 years
University of MinnesotaUp to $40,000 over 4 years
Northeastern UniversityUp to $28,000 annually
University of NebraskaFull tuition

*This represents the most updated information we found at the time of publishing. The testing and scholarship landscape is changing rapidly so be sure to contact your target schools directly.

Private Scholarships

There are hundreds of private foundations and organizations that award scholarship dollars based, in part, on SAT and ACT test scores.

Because these scholarships are from private foundations and organizations, each private organization has its own goals and priorities, as you would expect.

Some are designed with the goal of supporting students in a specific state or certain academic programs. Some provide scholarships for specific universities and others are trying to support students who are the first in their family to go to college. This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many other goals that private organizations are trying to meet with their financial generosity.

As with all the scholarships listed here, there are specific rules and instructions for each, so please contact these organizations directly to get the details.

Again, below is only a very, very small sampling to give you an idea of what these scholarships are like.

OrganizationAwardRequirementsWebsite
Kim and Harold Louie Family FoundationUp to $25,000ACT 27+, SAT 1300+, GPA 3.7+, Letters of referencehttps://www.louiefamilyfoundation.org/scholarship-application
Jackie Robinson FoundationUp to $35,000ACT: 21+, SAT: 1000+, Essay and letter of recommendationhttps://jackierobinson.org/scholarship/
Catch A Break$11,000 per yearACT: 24+, GPA 3.0+https://catchabreakscholar.org/
George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation $20,000ACT: 21+, SAT: 1000+https://hammanfoundation.org/
Chicago Roofing Contractors AssociationUp to $20,000ACT: 23+, SAT: 1390+https://chicagoroofing.org/Resources/Scholarship
Paul Tsongas ScholarshipTuition and fee waiverACT: 26+, SAT: 1200+, GPA: 3.75https://www.mass.edu/osfa/programs/tsongas.asp
5 StrongFull Tuition“Excellent” ACT/SAT scores and “superior” GPAhttps://www.5strongscholars.org/apply
Engebretson Foundation Scholarship$10,000 per yearACT: 28+, SAT: 1240+, 3.75 GPA and/or top 5% class rankhttps://engebretsonfoundation.org/

*This again represents the most updated information we found at the time of publishing. The testing and scholarship landscape is changing rapidly so be sure to contact the organizations directly.

Other Private Scholarships

This is just a handful of private scholarships that I picked as examples. There are hundreds more. There are websites that can help you sort through options (in fact there are nearly as many websites as there are scholarships). A popular one is Scholarships.com, head here to check out their scholarship directory.

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College and University-Specific Scholarships

In addition to the hundreds of private organizations and foundations giving away scholarships, nearly every college and university awards its own scholarships. (Could they possibly have made this any more confusing?)

We’re going to break these college and university scholarships into two camps: Automatic scholarships and competitive or merit scholarships. Both types are based on academic performance and many of them have an ACT or SAT component.

  • Automatic scholarships are just that ― automatically awarded if you fulfill certain academic requirements. No fuss, no muss. Schools literally give you thousands of dollars for hitting specific test scores mixed with other academic credentials like GPA or class rank.
  • Competitive or merit-based scholarships require an application process and are only open to students who qualify. Qualification usually involves a mix of academic credentials and frequently requires good test scores.

First, let’s look at some examples of automatic scholarships and get an idea of how they work. Again, this is not a complete list. These are just some examples so you can understand how they work. Always contact your target schools to see what they offer.

Automatic Scholarships

(You don’t have to do anything for these – the money is simply given to you if you meet certain criteria. I know, it’s awesome!)

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona offers multiple automatic awards based on test scores and GPA.

  • Resident Wildcat Awards: $750 to $12,500
    • Requirements: The highest awards go to students with 4.0+ GPA and 1420+ SAT scores
  • Non-Resident Arizona Awards: $1,000-$32,000
    • Requirements: The highest awards go to students with 4.0+ GPA and 1420+ SAT scores

Find out more here.

Utah State University

Utah State University offers a number of awards based on test scores and GPA.

  • Residents: From $1,000 per year to 100% resident tuition & student fees for four years
    • Requirements: Awards granted based on a combination of SAT/ACT scores and GPA
  • Non-Residents: From $11,500 per year to 100% tuition & student fees for four years
    • Requirements: Awards granted based on a combination of SAT/ACT scores and GPA

Find out more here.

University of Tennessee

The University of Tennessee offers a number of awards based on test scores and GPA.

  • Residents: $9,000
    • Requirements: 1490 SAT or 34 ACT, plus a 3.8 GPA
  • Non-Residents: $18,000
    • Requirements: 1490 SAT or 34 ACT, plus a 3.0 GPA

Smaller awards are available for lower SAT/ACT and GPA combinations. Find out more here.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University uses a matrix of test scores and class rank. For example, if you are in the top 10% of your class and score a 25 on the ACT you get $3,000 each year. If you are in the top 10% of your class and score a 31 on the ACT, you get $7,000 each year, automatically.

Find out more here: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/scholarships/incFreshman.php

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri calculates automatic scholarships by using a matrix of GPA and test scores. Their awards are anywhere from $3,000 to $6,500. Again, the scholarships are automatically given.

Learn more here.

Michigan Tech

The school automatically awards students based on a combination of their high school academic record, including cumulative GPA and SAT or ACT score. The minimum GPA required for scholarship consideration is a 3.50. The minimum eligible standardized test score is a 1110 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT. You can estimate your award amount

Find out more here.

University of Kentucky

  • Provost Scholarship (in-state): $2,500 to $5,000
    • Requirements: 3.30 GPA and 26 ACT/1230 SAT for $2,500 or 3.30 GPA and 28 ACT/1300 SAT for $5,000
  • Bluegrass Spirit (out-of-state): $8,000 to $12,500
    • Requirements: 3.00 GPA and 25 ACT/1200 SAT for $8,000, 3.50 GPA and 25 ACT/1200 SAT for $10,000, or 3.50 GPA and 30 ACT/1360 SAT for $12,500

Find out more here.

University of Wyoming

  • The Cowboy Commitment: $6,500 per year
    • Requirements: Have a combination of a 3.4-4.0 GPA and 1390+ SAT/31+ ACT. See this sliding scale to determine where your combination of GPA and test scores falls.

Smaller awards are available for lower SAT/ACT and GPA combinations, ranging from $500 to $3,500 per year. The Cowboy Commitment is for in-state students only. Non-resident students will receive the Brown and Gold Commitment, ranging from $2,500 to $12,750.

Find out more here.

This is just a sample of schools that offer automatic scholarships and some examples of how these automatic scholarships work. These types of scholarships tend to be fairly common (and scholarships tend to change from year to year) so the best thing to do is check with your target schools and see what type of automatic scholarships they offer.

Here is another good resource to find more automatic scholarships.

Competitive or Merit Scholarships

Next, let’s take a look at competitive or merit scholarships.

Schools also offer scholarships based on academic merit that students must apply for. Only qualifying students are eligible to apply and eligibility is based on academic performance (and frequently involves test scores). Here are some examples.

(And again, this is only a very small sample of merit scholarships that are available. As you’ll see, they can be very valuable).

ScholarshipAwardRequirementsWebsite
Ohio State University: National Buckeye ScholarshipUp to $54,000ACT 29+, SAT 1330+, Top 25% of graduating classhttp://undergrad.osu.edu/cost-and-aid/merit-based-scholarships
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga: Chancellor’s Scholarship Up to $20,000ACT: 29+, SAT: 1330+, 3.75 GPAhttps://new.utc.edu/enrollment-management-and-student-affairs/financial-aid-and-scholarships/scholarships/renewable-scholarships/chancellors-scholarship
University of Iowa: Academic Success ScholarshipVaries ACT: 29+, SAT: 1330+, GPA: 3.6https://admissions.uiowa.edu/finances/policy
Hope CollegeUp to $24,000 per yearACT: 28+, SAT: 1300+https://hope.edu/admissions/scholarships.html
Furman University: James B. Duke ScholarshipsFull Tuition for 4 yearsACT 34/SAT 1500, Combination of GPA, extracurricular, and personal achievement https://www.furman.edu/financial-aid/aid-types/merit-based-scholarships/
SMU: President’s ScholarshipFull Tuition for 4 years“Exceptional” SAT or ACT scores, top 10% class rank, 20 academic units including honors and AP courseshttps://www.smu.edu/provost/saes/academic-enrichment/honors-and-scholars-programs/presidents-scholars
University of Nebraska: George Beadle Tuition Scholarship$15,000 per yearACT: 29+, SAT: 1330+, 3.5 GPAhttps://admissions.unl.edu/cost/scholarships/george-beadle-tuition-scholarship/

Again, the above is just a partial sampling of the thousands of merit scholarships available. Nearly every major four-year college or university (and there are nearly 4,000 of them) offers a variety of merit scholarships.

Generally, the better the academic credentials of the student, the more scholarships they qualify for and the larger the scholarship award.

Now What? And Where Did You Find All This Stuff?

First, we hope we have given you a better understanding of the types of scholarships that are available. There is a lot of financial support out there for students with good academic credentials.

That’s both good ― yay, money! And bad ― I’m already overwhelmed!

That means you need a way to help sort through all of these scholarships so you can identify the right ones for your background and qualifications.

Super Useful Resources

There are a lot of websites that sort out scholarships. Here is one that I like, but there are loads of others out there that will help you sort through your options. My advice is to pick the one that feels like it has the most options for you and that you feel the most comfortable navigating.

I caution you again that staying up-to-date on these scholarships is notoriously difficult. So please, after you find an appropriate scholarship, be sure to contact the organization directly to confirm the details and the application process.

Good luck, and I’m here to help!

I hope this was helpful and I wish you the best of luck scoring lots of scholarship money!

If you’re interested in scoring higher on the ACT or SAT so you can qualify for the most scholarship money possible, I would love to help you. I’ve been helping students ace the ACT and SAT for over 10 years and I know exactly what it takes to get you there, too. Book a free intro call on my coach profile to get started!

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