Elite Schools vs Full-Ride Scholarships — Parents Debate The Pros And Cons

Mother and teen daughter having a discussion with a laptop in front of them.

Elite Schools vs Full-Ride Scholarships — Parents Debate The Pros And Cons

Published November 30, 2023

Mother and teen daughter having a discussion with a laptop in front of them.

What happens when your student opts for the big, pricey college offering zero dollars in merit aid over myriad schools offering full rides? You digress and commiserate with other parents who’ve faced the same fate.

Recently, Olga K., a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, shared her family’s experience with choosing a school when chasing merit fails, and hundreds of parents weighed in with compassion.

According to Olga K., a parent can do everything right, including researching Net Price Calculators (NPC) early on, estimating Expected Family Contribution in advance, creating a perfect college list that checks off desired boxes, and becoming part of as many parent college support groups as possible, and it still may not lead to an affordable option.

“Have budget conversations with your kid, they said,” said Olga K. “Apply to schools known for merit, they said. Check for fit and visit campuses, they said. We did it all.”

Admissions rolled in one after another and that felt great, especially when money came in from liberal arts schools, full tuition offers from out-of-state flagships, and a little less money, but still some, from in-state public commuter schools. 

But not from their own uber-competitive, state flagship, a public ivy, the University of Texas at Austin. “Acceptance was granted with no guarantee of class space or dorm space and not a penny in merit money,” Olga K. said. “Some may call it blinded by prestige, some may see the opportunities this school delivers…but our first well-loved, college-bound kiddo rejected all the wonderful merit-chasing options in favor of the cold (overpriced) monstrosity that was close to home.”

A few teenage tears were shed when talk of student loans came up, but how could it not? 

Jennifer S., a fellow Texan, had a similar situation, except her daughter went with the out-of-state option. “My daughter will be going to the University of Alabama. She never had an interest in the University of Texas at Austin (UT) or Texas A&M, even though she was admitted to every state school. These two schools are not known for merit so they were never part of the plan.”

It’s hard to say no to our kids, but applying to schools known not to offer merit scholarships means you’re willing to pay the ticket price if they’re accepted, so many parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group wondered why Olga K.’s daughter applied in the first place. She said her daughter wasn’t willing to go far and none of the other schools compared to UT. 

“I sympathize with this,” said Cherice F., another parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group. “We’ve had many conversations and my child does not want to be more than three hours from home. That seriously limits us. There are amazing schools with good merit out there but as a parent, I can’t push her away if she’s not ready. So today we visited a closer private [school] with a “discounted” NPC that costs $47,000 and while I can pay it, I didn’t WANT to pay that much.”

Teresa F. said parents need to be crystal clear about what their family can afford without resorting to exorbitant loans. “You know the sticker price of fancy cars and pricey homes,” she said. “Know your state university costs, too. If you can truly afford only $20,000 a year, say something when they’re 14, not after they get accepted at the fancy schmancy schools. Numbers don’t lie, and neither should you to your child!

Join the conversation in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, and read more comments from other parents like you.

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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.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Explaining $80K in Student Loan Debt to a 17-Year-Old

Have an Honest College Money Talk Before It’s Too Late

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

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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