Everything You Need to Know About Merit Aid

everything you need to know about merit aid

Everything You Need to Know About Merit Aid

Published April 10, 2020 | Last Updated July 24th, 2023 at 09:04 am

everything you need to know about merit aid

Road2College had the pleasure of being a guest on a Twitter chat– #CollegeCash with Jodi Okun--where we discussed “Everything You Need to Know About Merit Aid.” 

Here is the transcript from the show.

What Is Merit Aid?

How does merit aid differ from other types of financial aid?

Merit-based aid is awarded solely on the basis of academic achievement, merit, or any other non-need-based reason.

This can be academic, GPA or test scores; geographic; community service; or some special skill like music or debate, as examples

Do all colleges offer merit aid?

No, not all colleges offer merit aid. The Ivies and more selective colleges do not. Other schools, depending on their resources, may not have money to offer merit aid.

Is the FAFSA required to apply for merit aid?

The answer is – it depends. Every school has different policies for this.

Some schools ask to have FAFSA filed in order to be considered for merit aid and others don’t. Families need to ask.

At some schools, students need to fill out additional forms to be considered for merit money.

At other schools it is automatic.

How can merit aid play a factor in choosing where to go to school?

If you’re a family that isn’t eligible for need-based financial aid, your only chance at getting money from a college is from merit aid.

As we know, many families won’t be eligible for need-based financial aid and still can’t afford college.

Merit aid can help make colleges more affordable for families not getting need-based aid.

(And one more response from another #collegecash listener:  “For some of our National Merit Semifinalists, they build their college list around merit aid!  Some pretty generous colleges still out there for NMS.”

What are some tips for maximizing your chances of receiving merit aid?

To maximize merit aid, make sure you apply to schools that offer it and offer it to a fair percentage of students.

Students have a better chance of getting merit aid if their test scores/GPA are at the top of the range for admitted students. Don’t miss deadlines.

Know if there are additional deadlines to be considered for merit money.

Sometimes deadlines may be earlier than regular ones.

(Great response from another #collegecash listener: “I tell my students: ‘Let colleges reach for YOU!’  Merit aid is out there if students can stop focusing on rankings only—which we know are meaningless for undergraduate teaching and student engagement.”)

Can merit aid be “negotiated?”

It can’t hurt to try.

We don’t like to think of it as a “negotiation,” but rather an “appeal.”

If a student has a better merit aid offer, they can ask a school to match it.

The school may or may not. It depends on lots of factors like how badly the school wants the student, how much money is available at the college or what their yield is like.

How early should high school students start prepping to apply for merit aid and what should they be doing?

Test scores are important for merit aid, so doing better on the ACT/SAT can translate into more money. It would help a student to do as well as possible on their ACT/SAT to get as much merit money as possible. Other than test scores/GPA, I don’t believe there’s any other prepping for merit aid that should be done. Students should do activities they enjoy.

Do public and private schools differ in the amount of merit aid they give out?

In general, private schools tend to offer larger merit aid awards and to more of their students. But their COA (Cost of Attendance) is also higher.

Some public schools have significantly increased their merit aid, like the University of Alabama.

(In addition to our response to this question, another #collegecash listener added this: “And seeing some out-of-state publics charging kids IN-STATE costs as merit aid incentive to attend—or as recruitment tool w/honors program offer. Seeing my Illinois kids paying in-state even when crossing state lines.”)

What are some tools or resources students and parents can use to research merit aid?

If you’re trying to figure out which colleges can offer your student the most merit scholarships or  wondering which colleges you’ll be able to afford, our  R2C Insights tool is exactly this kind of a resource. 

You can also use collegedata.com to search for colleges based on percentage of students with merit aid. It’s a great place to start.

Also, check a school’s Common Data Set for details on how much merit aid is awarded and to how many students.

If you could leave us with one last piece of advice when it comes to paying for college, what would it be?

Know how much you can afford or are willing to pay for college and talk to your student about it BEFORE searching for colleges.

Play around with NPCs (Net Price Calculators) to see how much a school will cost.

Start doing this when your student is in 9th grade; don’t wait until 12th grade to familiarize yourself with the process.

Also, encourage your student to broaden their horizons and consider colleges beyond the brand name and they’ll have better chances of getting merit aid.


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:

Merit Scholarships Guide: Factors, Tips, Full List and Search Tool

How to Pick a College That Loves You Back

How to Apply to College: A Comprehensive Guide






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