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Disclaimer: Financial aid differs from college to college and can be very confusing, so the best way to find answers about a particular school’s financial aid policies is to go on that school’s website or talk to one of its advisors.
We’ve discussed that colleges consider many factors when choosing to accept applicants, but they also look at all parts of a student’s application when assembling financial aid packages. In this blog, we’ll look at one potential part of a financial aid package – merit aid.
What is merit aid?
Colleges give merit aid, based mainly on test scores and GPA, to help attract strong students to their college. Hundreds of colleges in the US give out millions of dollars in merit aid bringing the list tuition price down by thousands of dollars for many students. This aid represents a gift from the college which you do not need to repay. Students can also apply for merit-based scholarships from companies and programs outside of the college, but in this blog, we’re focusing on merit aid given to students from colleges.
How do I find which colleges offer merit aid?
Hundreds of colleges offer merit aid. You can search for “colleges offering merit aid” online and you will get all kinds of lists. Definitely verify with any of the specific schools that you have an interest in to confirm what they offer and to understand what the stipulations are. Colleges will usually list if, and sometimes what, merit-based scholarships they offer on their admissions and/or financial aid pages of their website.
Do students have to apply for merit aid?
Most colleges do not have a separate application for merit aid, and they will consider all submitted applications for this kind of aid. However, some colleges do require a separate application for merit aid, so students should read each school’s financial aid information carefully when applying.
How do students find out if they will receive merit aid?
When colleges accept students, they will send a financial aid package letter that documents the different types of aid that student would receive if they choose to attend that school. This will include merit aid, need-based grants, other scholarships, work study, loans, and more.
If a student doesn’t receive merit aid in a financial aid package, can they do anything about it?
Yes! Most families don’t realize that they can negotiate financial aid packages. If a student does not receive merit aid (or any other kind of aid), they can contact the college’s financial aid office to see if any negotiation is possible, especially if the family’s financial situation has changed. Sometimes students can send more information to support their application.
Can merit aid continue beyond your first year at college?
It often does. Some merit aid will require that students maintain a certain GPA, pass certain classes, or fill out a document. The college’s financial aid advisors will be able to give students the best information.
Can a student still receive merit aid if their GPA isn’t extremely high?
They definitely can. Test scores and GPA represent the top two qualifiers for merit aid. Colleges may also award merit aid based on athletic, artistic, special-interest, or leadership accomplishments. Some schools even give merit aid based on alumni affiliation. Colleges may also look at other academic factors, such as class rank, difficulty of course load, and AP scores.
Why do colleges give merit aid to students?
Colleges provide merit aid as part of their financial aid packages for the same reasons that stores offer sale prices: they’re hoping to draw in interested folks who will continue to spend (and perhaps later donate) money at the school. Offering discounts through merit aid in the short term can help entice students to attend.
Do public and private colleges offer merit aid?
Yes. Public colleges tend to offer out-of-state students more dollars of merit aid than in-state students, which makes sense, as out-of-state costs run higher (sometimes by a significant amount) than in-state costs. Approximately 25% of students at public colleges receive merit aid.
Private colleges have higher list prices than public colleges and also offer more merit aid to offset those costs. While many of the most selective schools do not offer merit aid, hundreds of other selective and very selective colleges do.
Is this college-provided merit aid related to the National Merit Scholarship Program?
Colleges base their merit aid on student’s SAT and ACT test scores, their GPA and sometimes their other academic and extra-curricular achievements. Students who do extremely well on the PSAT may earn a National Merit Scholarship separate from what the college gives. The money colleges give and the amount of students eligible to receive merit aid is much higher than money earned through national merit scholarships.
Can students do anything while they’re in high school to increase their chances of receiving merit aid?
Absolutely! Besides doing their best to maintain a good GPA, participating in extracurricular activities, and taking challenging classes, students can set themselves up for success by taking an SAT or ACT prep class. Taking practice tests and learning how the ACT and SAT work can help students to improve their chances of getting merit aid even years before they begin submitting applications.
Merit aid can go a long way to offset college costs, especially for new college students. The sooner that high school students start working to boost their academic achievements, the better!