Which Colleges Offer the Best Merit Scholarships

You’re beginning the college admissions journey and are excited to select the schools where you will thrive academically and socially, and enjoy these very special four years of your life. As you head down this road, you begin to get sticker shock when you see the listed annual cost of many of these colleges being upwards of $50K and a good number being $70K+. What?!?! How can I afford that? And you ask yourself, are there merit scholarships available to offset this very hefty price? There may very well be. But, which colleges offer the best merit scholarships is not a simple question.

First, Let’s Define What a Merit Scholarship Is

Merit scholarships are funds that are awarded based on a student’s merit, their credentials. Criteria such as the courses, grades, and standardized test scores are considered. Schools look at what the student brings to the table for that particular school and what they are willing to provide for that student based on this criteria.
Just as importantly, early on in the process, you absolutely should define what your financial boundaries are, what you can and/or are willing to pay for your child’s college education. This is a must! If you don’t and you wait until the end, your child could be applying to colleges that you can’t afford – not a situation you want to be in. In addition, although we are speaking about merit money here, you need to also understand your financial aid position. Go to Big Future, accurately enter your information, and you will see what your Expected Family Contribution is. Once you decide and understand all of this, you can then, in an educated manor, move forward with college search and selection.

Receiving Merit Money Is Related to 3 Key Things

Whether a student received a merit scholarship is related to:

• How generous the school is
• How the student fares in the applicant pool
• How much funding is available

If a school is a reach for a student, meaning that they are in the lower end of the applicant pool, the likelihood, at most schools, for that student to receive merit money is slim to none. They are lucky to just get accepted! If, on the other hand, that student falls in the upper end of the applicant pool they have a greater likelihood of receiving merit dollars, that is, if the school even provides merit scholarships.

There are a number of schools, those that are typically highly selective, that don’t even offer or provide merit scholarships. They will meet 100% of a family’s financial need (the cost of attendance minus what the government and/or institution says you can afford for one year of college education, based on information provided through financial aid forms) but do not have merit money to give to students. So, if your family has no financial need and you are requiring money to be awarded from a school in order to be able to afford it, probably applying to those kinds of schools is not a good idea. Even if you or your child gets accepted, the school won’t fit within your financial boundaries. I say, don’t even apply. It’s devastating for the student and the family.

On the other hand, if your child is in the upper end of the applicant pool and applying to colleges that are generous, there are times where a college that has a sticker price of $60K+ can be brought down to a net price in the $30K range or below. How do you know which schools these are? Very good question – and there’s no straightforward answer. You have to understand the college, what their selectivity is as it relates to the student, how generous the school is, do they even provide merit money and, if so, how much, specific to the student.

How to Find Out Average Merit Scholarships for Each College

While there is no list that lays out which colleges offer the best merit scholarships, you can do some research to find out averages. Go to College Data where you can put in search criteria that will provide average merit aid for each school. Keep in mind that these are just averages and will depend on the student and where they fall in that college’s applicant pool, as well as how generous that college is. It’s not an exact science, but it is a benchmark. You can also search for a specific school and look under their MONEY MATTERS tab to understand better that specific school’s financial position and compare it to how it relates to your family’s situation.

Merit Money Key Takeaway

So you were hoping there was a simple answer to your question of which colleges offer the best merit scholarships. That there was some magic list that would provide you those schools to which you should apply to get the most money for all your hard work throughout high school. No such luck. If it were that easy everyone would be doing this. The college search process is deep, detailed, covers many facets, and needs to have varying criteria considered. It is specific to the student and their family and I will tell you, no two situations are alike. My advice to you: start early, be realistic, understand your academic position as it relates to the colleges you are considering and do your research. Enlist help when and if you need to and make sure that when you do, you do so with someone who is an expert in their field. There are no do-overs in this process. You have this one shot at getting it right.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.

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