The Best Colleges for Merit Aid

The Best Colleges for Merit Aid

For many families not eligible for needs based financial aid, figuring out whether a college is affordable, or not, means researching if a college offers merit aid, how many students receive merit aid, and how large the merit awards are.

Merit aid isn’t based on a family’s financial need, but is instead based 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 $31,745.
  • The range of average merit scholarship award from the top 10 colleges offering the highest dollar amounts is $74,447 to $32,013

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

 

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

10 Colleges Giving Merit Scholarships to the Highest % of Students

Data Source: Peterson's Undergraduate and Financial Aid Databases
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
 

Abilene Christian University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $17.977

Percent of need met: 71%

Abilene Christian University in Texas offers a number of scholarship and grant opportunities to undergraduate students each year based on academic achievement, community service, leadership, and other factors. ACU participates in the RaiseMe program that allows students to earn scholarship money while in high school. Their scholarship page offers numerous opportunities for students to earn merit awards.

 

University of Utah

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $7,912

Percent of need met: 67%

The University of Utah ranks among the top 100 universities in the world. A quick glance at their freshmen merit scholarships will substantiate the University’s commitment to meeting freshmen financial need by providing substantial merit aid to incoming students.

 

Howard Payne University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $12,793

Percent of need met: 74%

Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas is a small private college committed to making higher education affordable. Most freshmen students will not be asked to pay the full, advertised sticker price, but are offered a financial aid package that includes a generous amount of merit aid in the form of scholarships and grants.

 

Reinhardt University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $5,658

Percent of need met: 59%

Reinhardt University, ranked #7 in Georgia and #25 in the top regional colleges, is among the most affordable private institutions in Georgia. For the 2018-2019 year, Reinhardt awarded approximately $15.2 million in institutional financial aid and 100% of first-time full-time students received some form of financial aid.

 

Judson University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $19,853

Percent of need met: 63%

Judson University is a Christian college nestled along the Fox River in the city of Elgin, just 36 miles northwest of Chicago. It is home to over 1,250 students from 36 states and 30 countries and is quickly gaining a reputation as one of the nations “green” universities. Judson offers merit scholarships based on academics, leadership, community service, and standardized test scores.

 

Heidelberg University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $16,922

Percent of need met: 81%

Founded in 1850, Heidelberg University is a 4-year private institution that combines liberal arts and professional preparation. Located in Tiffin, Ohio, housing 1000 undergraduates, the college offers a variety of financial assistance including a generous grant and scholarship program to help supplement family contribution. Heidelberg University’s ranking in the 2020 edition of Best Colleges is Regional Colleges Midwest, #18 and #7 in Best Value schools.

 

Manhattan College

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $9,755

Percent of need met: 80%

Manhattan College, located in the Riverdale neighborhood of New York City, is a private institution with a total undergraduate enrollment of 3,654. The college offers substantial merit awards based on a variety of accomplishments such as exceptional SAT or ACT scores, grade point average, volunteer and community involvement, extra-curricular accomplishments and class rank. All accepted students are eligible for these and they are renewable for four years of undergraduate study.

 

Baldwin Wallace University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $15,139

Percent of need met: 88%

Baldwin Wallace University is a private school located in Berea, Ohio, about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland. BW continues to earn high marks for affordable excellence in rankings designed to help families find the right college fit. Merit scholarships, based on standardized test scores and GPA start at $15,000 and top off at $19,000 per year. Students who do not meet the criteria listed above for an academic merit scholarship may still qualify for an award based on a holistic review of their application materials.

 

Mississippi State University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $3,800

Percent of need met: 61%

Mississippi State is a large public university of 22,000 students from every state and 80+ countries. The university offers merit scholarships based on standardized test scores and GPA starting at $1,500 per year to $14,000 per year, with generous awards for National Merit semi-finalists and finalist up to $128,000 for four years.

 

Texas Lutheran University

Percent of freshmen without need receiving merit aid: 100%

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $22,382

Percent of need met: 85%

Founded in 1891, Texas Lutheran resides on 184 scenic acres in Seguin, Texas, near San Antonio and Austin. With a diverse student body of approximately 1,300 students, the college is committed to providing merit aid to help families pay for their education. They promise at least $20,000 per year for four years based on scores, grades and a holistic review of the student’s application.

 

10 Colleges That Give the Largest Merit Scholarship Awards

10 Colleges Giving The Largest Merit Scholarships

Data Source: Peterson's Undergraduate and Financial Aid Databases
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: $74,447

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 6%

Cost of attendance: $79,231

Duke University is a private institution with a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,682 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.

 

Bryn Athyn College of New Church

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $48,911

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 91%

Cost of attendance: $40,261

Bryn Athyn College is a small, private, coeducational, liberal arts college of just 330 students. The130-acre campus is located in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, just 14 miles north of center-city Philadelphia. The college is committed to giving all accepted applicants affordable access to a high-quality educational experience by offering merit scholarships and institutional grants.

 

Webb Institute

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $47,000

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 100%

Cost of attendance: $72,690

Webb Institute, 25 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island’s North Shore, is a unique, top-ranked undergraduate institution offering one academic option, a double major in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. It is also the only full-tuition scholarship private undergraduate program of its kind in the country. Every US citizen and permanent resident who enrolls at Webb receives a full-tuition scholarship. In addition to the full-tuition scholarship, Webb also offers internal scholarships that can be used to offset room and board and other costs. 

 

Washington and Lee University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $45,742

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 11%

Cost of attendance: $73,900

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, more than half the entering class received a W&L grant or scholarship with an average award of more than $50,000.

 

Swarthmore College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $43,252

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 3%

Cost of attendance: $70,744

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. Swarthmore Scholarship aid in 2018–19 from an overall financial aid budget of more than $43 million.

 

Hollins University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $35,233

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 100%

Cost of attendance: $56,940

Hollins University is a private woman’s college with a total undergraduate enrollment of 676; its setting is suburban, and the campus size is 475 acres. Ninety-nine percent of students receive scholarships and financial support from Hollins. The college awards $28,000,000 annually in scholarships and financial aid. First-year students receive a minimum of $24,000 per year. Virginia residents receive a minimum of $27,000 per year.

 

Wesleyan University

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $35,118

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 2%

Cost of attendance: $75,693

Wesleyan University, located in Middletown, Connecticut, is a private university with a total undergraduate enrollment of 3,009. Regularly ranked as one of America’s Best Value Private Colleges, their tuition is one of the most affordable in the Southeast. Once a student has been accepted to Wesleyan College, they will be automatically eligible for scholarships, one of them being a full-tuition scholarship.

 

Beloit College

Average merit award for freshmen without need: $35,407

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 100%

Cost of attendance: $63,406

Beloit is an above-average private college located in Beloit, Wisconsin. It is a small institution with an enrollment of 1,346 undergraduate students. They offer merit scholarships, which can be combined for up to $41,000 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: $33,601

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 6%

Cost of attendance: $74,712

Bard College is a private institution with a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,893, 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: $32,013

% of Students without need receiving merit scholarships: 100%

Cost of attendance: $62,155

Albion College has a total undergraduate enrollment of 1,533 and is located Albion, Michigan. It is a private college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year will range from $23,000 to $34,000 ($92,000 to $136,000 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.

 

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. 

If your family may be eligible for needs based aid, check out the top 10 colleges offering the best needs based aid.  Colleges with Best Financial Aid        

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Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.
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