What’s Your Student’s Merit Hook?

Published by Wendy Nelson on

What’s your student’s merit hook for the college search process? I am not going to go so far as to say that every future college student has a merit hook, but most do. Even if your student is not at the very top of his or her class, he or she may have enough of a merit hook to provide great deals on a college education. A “hook” in college admission terms, is something that makes your student especially appealing in the admissions process. In this case, we are looking at “hooks” that make your student appealing for institutional merit scholarships.

This is step two in my series on the Upside Down College Search, breaking down this process and giving you a framework to follow to find great deals for college. Step one was to assess “What Can Your Family Afford for College?” as a starting point for how much you can realistically pay out of pocket each year.

In step two, we will look at the concept of a “merit hook”, meaning that there is probably something your student has or is good at that will give her or him prospects for institutional merit aid from different colleges. There are several things you should assess to determine if your student will qualify for merit aid. Let’s walk through them.

#1 – Assess Your Student’s High School GPA

Ideally, you will look at your student’s GPA at the end of Junior year of high school. The good news here is that not all institutional merit scholarships require a certain GPA and for those that do have a minimum GPA value, it is often 3.0 or 3.5. A student does not need to have a near-perfect GPA to qualify for merit scholarships. Some colleges will use a weighted GPA while others want the unweighted GPA. Even for merit scholarships not tied to a minimum GPA, your student’s GPA will be critical in assessing how likely he or she will be to receive a merit scholarship from a particular school. We will look further at how these GPAs are used in finding merit scholarships in part four of this series.

#2 – Assess Your Student’s ACT/SAT Score

While more and more schools are going “test optional” for admissions, most still use the ACT or SAT score in calculating some of the merit scholarships offered. Even for scholarships that aren’t tied to a minimum ACT/SAT value, your student’s ACT or SAT score will be critical in assessing how likely he or she will be to receive a merit scholarship from a particular school.

For the purposes of institutional merit scholarship estimation, I would say don’t use a super-scored value. Use the best overall ACT or SAT score your student has from one test date.

#3 – Assess Your Student’s Talents

Does your student have talent in one of these areas – athletic, music, art, writing, dance, theater? These are the most common areas where school’s provide talent-based merit scholarships. Of course athletic talent ties to athletic scholarships and the athletic recruiting process which is a very specialized topic. I wrote a couple posts on this subject that you can find here.

There are many talent-based scholarships available from colleges around the country. You just need to find them and that’s not an easy task. I will talk more about how to find them in part four of this series.

#4 – Assess Your Student’s Leadership Experience

Another big category of merit scholarship opportunities revolve around leadership ability. In addition, many of the competitive merit scholarships are looking for the student with the “whole package” – good GPA, good test scores, leadership, community service, etc.

Any clubs or organizations where your student held an elected or appointed position are big here, but so are more unique leadership experiences where your student led some type of project or activity requiring a high degree of organization and coordination.

#5 – What Else May Qualify Your Student for Merit Scholarships?

What other skills or unique experiences does your student have that aren’t covered under talents or leadership? I would argue that most of these can be framed as leadership, but there could be some exceptions.

When it comes to ACT/SAT scores and GPA, don’t get discouraged if your student isn’t at the top of the range. Further into this series, I will show you how to determine what institutional merit scholarships may be available for students in your student’s test score and GPA range. In my next post, I will cover the factors that your student may want to use to come up with the initial list of his or her potential colleges. The week after that, we will look at how to narrow down that list to the schools that may give your student merit money.

At this early point in your student’s college search, it may be the right time to draft the Activity Resume so that you can thoroughly evaluate the factors that might make him or her eligible for merit scholarships.

Keep the information from all the steps above handy.  You will need it soon when we start evaluating potential colleges using the Upside Down College Search process.