The Best Colleges for Merit Aid

best colleges for merit aid

The Best Colleges for Merit Aid

Published June 1, 2024

best colleges for merit aid

For many families ineligible for need-based financial aid, figuring out whether a college is affordable means researching whether it offers merit aid, how many students receive merit aid, and how large the merit awards are.

What Exactly Is Merit Aid?

Merit aid isn’t based on a family’s financial need but on a combination of a student’s test scores, grades, and, in some cases, talent.

It’s important to research the criteria a college is using to award merit aid.

Some colleges share this information publicly on their websites, others have specific merit scholarships students need to apply for, while other schools choose to not disclose their criteria and use the money to lure higher achieving students to their school.

In the process of awarding merit aid, some colleges give out more than others. Unfortunately, very few public universities offer large amounts of merit-based aid because they don’t have the funding.

Many of the top private schools do not offer merit-based aid because of their popularity and the lack of need to use aid to lure the best students.

There are schools, however, where merit aid is more common.

These schools use merit-based aid to attract strong applicants and remain competitive with other colleges of the same caliber.

Keep in mind that even after searching for colleges with generous financial aid, some families will still have a gap between what the college offers and the family’s net costs. 

Federal student loans should always be the first loans borrowed. But if federal loans aren’t enough, private lenders, like College Ave Student Loans, can help cover any remaining college funding gaps. 

Key Findings for Generous Colleges Offering Merit Scholarships:

According to the data we collected*, we’ve compiled these key findings:

  • 145 colleges and universities offer merit scholarships to 100% of students without financial need
  •  Of those 145 colleges and universities 3 are public and 142 are private institutions
  • The average merit scholarship award of the 145 colleges offering merit scholarships to 100% of students without need s is $15,744
  • The average merit scholarships for the 10 most generous colleges offering merit scholarships to 100% of students without need is $44,670.
  • The range of average merit scholarship award from the top 10 colleges offering the highest dollar amounts is $78,610 to $36,317

For detailed information on each and a complete list of all the colleges and universities offering the best financial aid, follow the links below.

If you’re interested in finding more colleges generous with merit aid, check out our R2C Insights search tool

10 Colleges That Give Merit Aid to the Highest Percentage of Students

NameState% Freshmen w/out need Receiving Merit AidAvg Merit Award for Freshmen w/out need
Abilene Christian UniversityTX100%$17,977
University of UtahUT100%$7,912
Howard Payne UniversityTX100%$12,793
Reinhardt UniversityGA100%$5,658
Heidelberg UniversityOH100%$16,922
Judson UniversityIL100%$19,853
Manhattan CollegeNY100%$9,755
Baldwin Wallace UniversityOH100%$15,139
MississiPrivatei State UniversityMS100%$3,800
Texas Lutheran UniversityTX100%$22,382

 

Albion College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $39,697

Percent of need met: 93%

Albion College in Michigan offers a number of scholarship and grant opportunities to undergraduate students each year based on academic achievement, community service, leadership, and other factors.  Their scholarship page offers numerous opportunities for students to earn merit awards.

Clarkson University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $35,794

Percent of need met: 90%

Clarkson University is a leader in technological education and sustainable economic development. A quick glance at their merit scholarships will substantiate the University’s commitment to meeting freshmen financial need by providing substantial merit aid to incoming students.

Washington College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $33,834

Percent of need met: 80%

Washington College in Chesterton, Maryland is a small private college committed to making higher education affordable. Most freshmen students are offered a financial aid package that includes a generous amount of merit aid in the form of scholarships and grants.

Simpson College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $32,534

Percent of need met: 85%

Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa is the #1 ranked computer science program in Iowa. The College generously offers 100% of first-time full-time students received some merit aid, ranging between $35,000 to $27,000 even if your GPA is below 2.8.

Wabash College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $31,853

Percent of need met: 94%

US News and World Report ranks Wabash College #28 in Best Value Schools and #59 in National Liberal Arts Colleges. This private men’s college boasts that 99% of its graduates are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation. Wabash offers merit scholarships based on academics, leadership, community service, and standardized test scores.

Agnes Scott College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $31,127

Percent of need met: 86%

Founded in 1899, Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur, Georgia, is recognized as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. Starting with the high school graduating class of 2024, Agnes Scott College guarantees every student will receive financial aid of at least $25,000 a year as part of The Agnes Scott $100K Promise.

Hollins University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $30,658

Percent of need met: 86%

Hollins University, located in Roanoke, Virginia, is a private institution that only enrolls women at the undergraduate level. (Men are admitted at the graduate level). The college is best known for its writing programs; one of its best-known students is Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Annie Dillard. The college offers substantial merit awards and guarantees that all first-year students will receive at a minimum a $24,000 a year scholarship; Virginia residents will receive a minimum $29,000 a year scholarship.

Alma College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $29,977

Percent of need met: 78%

Alma College is a private school located in Alma, Michigan, about 55 miles north of Lansing. The college is ranked #7 in Regional Colleges Midwest and #12 in Best Value Colleges according to US News and World Report. Alma College offers a wide range of scholarships and offers generous scholarships to transfer students for as much as $30,000 per year!

Gustavus Adolphus College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $29,130

Percent of need met: 95%

Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota boasts an 11:1 teacher-student ratio and a graduation rate of 76 percent.  The college offers automatic merit scholarships based on standardized test scores, achievements, leadership and GPA starting at $25,000 to as much as $36,500 per year.

Augustana College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $29,023

Percent of need met: 87%

Founded in 1860, Augustana College is located in Rock Island, Illinois, approximately 170 miles west of Chicago. As of 2023, 2,158 students attended the college, the highest number in 44 years. Incoming freshmen can earn as much as $30,000 per year in merit scholarships, while transfer students can earn as much as $27,000 per year.

 

10 Colleges That Give the Largest Merit Scholarship Awards

NameState% Freshmen w/out need Receiving Merit AidAvg Merit Award for Freshmen w/out need
Duke UniversityNC6%$74,447
Bryn Athyn College of the New ChurchPA91%$48,911
Webb InstituteNY100%$47,000
Washington and Lee UniversityVA11%$45,742
Swarthmore CollegePA3%$43,252
Hollins UniversityVA100%$35,233
Wesleyan UniversityCT2%$35,118
Beloit CollegeWI100%$34,507
Bard CollegeNY6%$33,601
Albion CollegeMI100%$32,013

Duke University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $78,610

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 3%

Cost of attendance: $89,630

Duke University is a private institution with a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,640 located in Durham, North Carolina. With a large and generous alumni network, Duke can be generous with its merit aid. Applicants are automatically considered for Duke’s 10 merit scholarship programs by virtue of their admissions application.

Swarthmore College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $45,110

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 1%

Cost of attendance: $81,376

Swarthmore College strives to make it possible for all admitted students to attend Swarthmore, regardless of their ability to pay, and meets 100 percent of determined need for all admitted students. Fifty-one percent of students received Swarthmore Scholarship aid in 2022–23 from an overall financial aid budget of more than $48 million.

Washington and Lee University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $43,818

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 11%

Cost of attendance: $87,000

Washington and Lee is a top-ranked, private institution in Lexington, Virginia. Washington and Lee University meets 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need entirely through scholarship, grants, and student employment. Last year, fifty-seven percent of the entering class received a W&L grant or scholarship with an average award of $64,265.

University of Richmond

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $42,538

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 36%

Cost of attendance: $81,320

Located in Richmond, Virginia, the University of Richmond has approximately 3,200 students from over 70 countries. US News and World Report ranks this school #25 in National Liberal Arts Colleges. The University of Richmond is both need blind in admissions and meets 100% of need. Of the 36 percent of students who had need, the average award package was $60,740.

Beloit College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $41,660

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 99%

Cost of attendance: $67,172

Beloit is an above-average private college located in Beloit, Wisconsin. It is a small institution with an enrollment of 964 undergraduate students. They offer merit scholarships, which can be combined for up to $42,000 a year. Their merit scholarships set the stage for Beloit’s academic excellence and makes for a strong community of future scholars, leaders, and innovators.

Bard College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $40,474

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 10%

Cost of attendance: $78,080

Bard College is a private institution with a total undergraduate enrollment of 2,706, spread out across 500 acres of parks and woodland. Located in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., the secluded school is close to the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains. Bard makes every effort to meet full need for highly ranked applicants by offering merit scholarships.

Albion College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $39,697

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 100%

Cost of attendance: $67,796

Albion College has a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,454 and is located Albion, Michigan. It is a private college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Scholarships for the 2024-25 academic year will range from $26,000 to $40,000 ($104,000 to $160,000 over four years). All Albion academic scholarships are based solely upon merit, regardless of need. All are renewable each year, subject to satisfactory academic progress.

John Hopkins University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $39,328

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 10%

Cost of attendance: $86,065

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland is a top-ranked institution best known for their College of Medicine. Currently, approximately 6,000 undergraduates are enrolled in the University, which meets full-need, including for international and transfer students. 

The University of Tulsa

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $39,152

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 83%

Cost of attendance: $61,054

The University of Tulsa is a private institution founded in 1894. Currently, 2,647 students attend the University, which is best known for its petroleum engineering programs. The University offers a wide range of scholarships, and students are automatically and holistically evaluated for all of them.

Susquehanna University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $36,317

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 98%

Cost of attendance: $70,600

Susquehanna University, located in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, is a private university with a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,299. The Princeton Review named Susquehanna one of the best universities in the nation. Once a student has been accepted to Susquehanna University, they will be automatically eligible for scholarships, ranging from $36,000 to $43,000 a year.

If you don’t see a college on this list, research the college and compare their financial aid statistics with one another. Use those comparisons to make a smart financially attainable college list. 

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like:

Colleges Offering Merit Aid to 95%+ of Students Without Need

We Went from $0 to $24,000 in Merit Aid Just for Asking

How to Secure College Merit Aid: 9 Steps to Take Junior and Senior Year

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This article is sponsored by College Ave Student Loans. Check out their private student loan rates and see how they compare to parent PLUS loans.

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