Finding Great Merit Scholarships

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Over the past month, my most popular post, by far, has been Can My Kid Get a Full-Ride Scholarship?  I wrote this post back in July.  People are mostly finding it when they type in something about “full ride scholarships” into a search engine.  The popularity of this topic makes it clear to me that parents and college-bound students are searching for ways to make college more Moneyaffordable.  I am still working on the comprehensive list of full-ride and full-tuition scholarships that I talked about in that post.  What’s making it challenging is that the sources I am using tend to become outdated as fewer and fewer schools elect to continue to offer these uber-generous scholarships.  Rather than full-ride and full-tuition scholarships, many schools are now opting instead to offer more merit scholarships in smaller amounts.

What makes a good merit scholarship?

It’s all relative.  The higher the tuition cost, the higher the merit scholarship needs to be to be considered “good.”  You really need to look for schools that will offer you the lowest Net Price, or the price you will pay out-of-pocket after any need-based and non-need-based aid has been applied.

Let’s look at two different merit scholarship offers (these examples assume no need-based aid is being offered):

School B’s merit scholarship offer sounds more impressive until you look at the difference in the net price.

When you are looking at merit scholarships, don’t forget to look at any GPA requirements for automatic renewal of the scholarship.  Most schools require a student to maintain a certain GPA, like a 3.0 or higher.  That sounds easy when you compare it to a high school GPA, but it can be a lot tougher to maintain at a very competitive college.

Where do we find colleges with great merit scholarships?

There are some tools that will save you from researching every college you can think of.  Here are a couple places I have found good information:

Most Students Receiving Merit Aid – This is a US News list of 100 schools reporting the highest percentages of students receiving non-need-based aid.  The schools on the list range from 26% of students to 66% of students and could be worth investigating further.  You should be able to find details about their merit scholarship offerings somewhere in the Admissions section of the school websites. – This website is devoted to listing schools with merit scholarships.  It is a part of Cappex, one of my favorite sites for finding colleges and outside scholarships.  You can search for colleges by name to see the details of their merit scholarship offerings.  I didn’t find the information 100% accurate, but it is close and is a good place to start if you don’t want to search through individual college websites to find this information.

Students with higher GPAs and ACT/SAT scores are more likely to get higher merit scholarship offers.  Some schools make it easy and publish a grid where the merit amount directly correlates with the student’s GPA and ACT/SAT score.  Other schools use a mysterious “admissions office discretion” process when reviewing the admission application.  There are also schools that require a separate application for merit scholarships, or use a combination approach where the largest merit scholarships require a separate application, interview, and/or competition, but lesser amounts are automatically granted.

Private colleges offer more merit scholarships than public colleges (and larger amounts) in order to attract students who would otherwise lean towards public colleges to save money.  Also, less selective colleges offer more merit scholarships than more selective colleges in order to attract top students.

The bottom line is that if you have a good student, merit scholarships are a great way to save on college costs regardless of family income.