The Future of Merit-Based vs. Need-Based Scholarship Programs and Their Impact on Access to Higher Education


Scholarship programs can provide crucial financial support for students seeking higher education. However, the debate between merit-based and need-based scholarship programs continues to spark discussion around issues of access to higher education. Says Jeremy Schulman, In this blog article, we will explore the future of merit-based vs. need-based scholarship programs and their impact on access to higher education.

Merit-Based Scholarships: Pros and Cons

Merit-based scholarships award funds to students based on their academic achievements or other accomplishments, such as athletics or leadership roles. One of the main benefits of merit-based scholarships is that they reward hard work and achievement. They can also attract top students to universities and help those students pay for their education. However, critics argue that merit-based scholarships can perpetuate existing inequalities and favor students who already have advantages, such as higher income or access to better educational resources. This can result in a lack of diversity within universities and limit access to higher education for students from marginalized communities.

Need-Based Scholarships: Pros and Cons

Need-based scholarships, on the other hand, award funds based on a student’s financial need. These scholarships can help students who would otherwise be unable to afford college to access higher education. Need-based scholarships can also help to create a more diverse and inclusive student body, as they prioritize students from lower-income families or underrepresented communities. However, some argue that need-based scholarships can penalize students who have worked hard and achieved academic success, but do not meet the criteria for financial need. This can create a disincentive for students to excel academically.

Future of Merit-Based vs. Need-Based Scholarships

The future of merit-based and need-based scholarships is likely to depend on a number of factors, including changes in higher education policy, economic conditions, and social attitudes towards education. It is possible that a hybrid model, which combines aspects of both merit- and need-based scholarships, could emerge as a way to address the concerns raised by both types of programs. For example, a scholarship program could provide funds to students who demonstrate both academic achievement and financial need, or award additional funds to students from underrepresented communities.

Impact on Access to Higher Education

Ultimately, the impact of merit-based and need-based scholarships on access to higher education depends on a variety of factors. While merit-based scholarships can provide opportunities for top students to attend prestigious universities, they can also exclude those who do not have access to the same resources or opportunities. Need-based scholarships can help to level the playing field and provide financial support for students who might not otherwise be able to afford higher education, but they can also have unintended consequences, such as a disincentive for academic achievement.


As higher education continues to evolve, the debate between merit-based and need-based scholarships is likely to continue. While both types of scholarship programs have their benefits and drawbacks, it is important to consider the impact they have on access to higher education. A combination of merit- and need-based scholarships may be the best way to ensure that all students have the opportunity to pursue higher education and achieve their full potential.

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