Institutional Merit Scholarships Equal “Tuition Discounts”

Published by Wendy Nelson on


Institutional merit scholarships equal “tuition discounts”.  Much has been written lately about “tuition discounts”.  Colleges offer grants and scholarships in order to discount their tuition.  However, not everyone gets a tuition discount and not all colleges offer discounts.

There are essentially two types of tuition discounts – need based and merit based.  Let’s take a closer look at both types.

Need-Based Tuition Discounts

Some need-based financial aid comes in the form of federal or state government-awarded grants.  However, colleges also provide need-based aid in the form of grants or need-based scholarships.  This is where the schools’ Net Price Calculators come into play.  All colleges are required to provide Net Price Calculators on their websites and all Net Price Calculators will reflect need-based aid first and foremost.

Most top-tier colleges in the country, including the Ivy Leagues, only offer need-based tuition discounts.  I will talk more about those colleges next week.

There are 66 colleges in the U.S. that claim to meet 100% of a student’s need.  Many of these are the same schools that offer no merit aid.  If your family income combined with other financial statistics (including the number of students you have in college at the same time) is low enough to meet the school’s criteria for need-based aid, you are in luck on getting a tuition discount here.  Otherwise, no tuition discounts for you!  I will go into more detail on what meets the financial aid threshold for these schools next week also.

Merit-Based Tuition Discounts

Merit-based tuition discounts come in the form of merit scholarships or grants.  Most are offered as Institutional Merit Scholarships, meaning merit scholarships offered directly by the institution.  On my new site,, there are 1029 different colleges listed that offer merit scholarships.

Merit scholarships usually range from a few thousand dollars per year up to a full ride.  The huge ones are hard to score, but they are out there.  My Full Scholarship List, available here on has 1,225 scholarships that are offered directly at Full Tuition or Full Ride values, or are available in amounts “up to full tuition” or “up to full ride”.

Merit-based tuition discounts are not given to everyone.  They are usually provided to attract top students.  The majority of the schools offering large merit-based tuition discounts are not the Harvards, Wash Us, or MITs of the world.  They are mostly middle of the road colleges that want to attract top students who will enrich there campuses, both in and out of the classroom.

As I mentioned above, most top-tier colleges, especially Ivy Leagues, do not offer any merit-based scholarships.

Although institutional merit scholarships are not given to every student, you will find a big difference in the number of students who receive these and the amounts that are offered.  As you run up the selectivity ladder, colleges offer fewer merit-based tuition discounts and the qualifications become higher – higher required ACT/SAT score and higher required GPA.

Private colleges will offer more merit-based tuition discounts than public colleges because they need to woo top students away from public colleges with lower sticker prices.  They will aim to adjust their price down to a level where they can compete against the public colleges.


I choose to focus my efforts almost entirely around merit-based tuition discounts because of the large number of families that need to rely on these.  These are families who make too much money for need-based aid, or have students who aren’t shooting for top tier schools that offer some need-based aid to most families.  These families have smart students, who have a lot of options for college, but they also don’t have a giant college fund saved to allow them to attend any school they are interested in.  They have to look for the schools that offer a good education at an affordable price.

Merit scholarships are a great way for these families to make college affordable.

Some in the media have disparaged tuition discounts as just a way to mask the true price of college, kind of like a department store where things are always on sale.  In an ideal world, everyone would get the discounted price up front, without having to play any games, but that’s not the way most of the retail market works and it’s not the way the majority of colleges work today.

So we play the game, we let our students compete for big merit scholarships, they feel great when they get offers of 50% of the price of tuition or more, we as parents feel like all their hard work in high school was worth it.  What’s the harm in it all?

1 Comment

Best Colleges for Need-Based Financial Aid | My Kid's College Choice · October 10, 2016 at 8:52 pm

[…] my last post, Institutional Merit Scholarships Equal Tuition Discounts, I talked primarily about merit scholarships, but I promised to talk more about Ivy League and […]

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