“Follow The Money” To Find More Generous Colleges

Follow The Money To Merit Aid

“Follow The Money” To Find More Generous Colleges

Published January 28, 2016

Follow The Money To Merit Aid

Follow The Money To Merit Aid I’m about to start helping my daughter put together a list of colleges she may be interested in so we can visit them in the coming months. When she starts college, I’ll have two kids in college at the same time. Even though there’s a chance (a very small chance) that having two kids in college at the same time improves the possibility of being eligible for some financial aid, I’m not holding my breath. Instead, I’m going to put my own advice to work and start researching to find colleges that are more likely to be generous with their merit aid.

The data to start my research comes from two sources: IPEDS and the Common Data Set. IPEDS is data the government requires of all postsecondary institutions that receive federal financial aid money under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The Common Data Set collects data under the collaborative arrangements made between higher education institutions and publishers, namely The College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report (yes – this is part of the data that is used to make up the infamous USN&WR rankings). These two data sources have information on colleges that will help me “follow the money” to find schools that are more generous with their institutional aid.

As I help my daughter create a list of potential schools she will apply to, it’s important to make sure the list includes a good number of schools that have a higher likelihood of offering merit scholarships. This is the type of research that needs to happen BEFORE my daughter applies, because after the applications are in, it’s too late and she’ll be left to choose from the schools that accept her with or without any merit aid offered. So if we don’t include these schools in the mix now, we’ll be out of luck when admissions decisions come out next spring.  


Deciding to research is easy, finding the data is not so easy. But here’s the data that will help tell me if a college is generous:

What Information Should I Research?

Average % of Need Met – Colleges report this information, which shows how much of a student’s financial need a college can meet. For example, if a family’s EFC (expected family contribution) is $25,000, but the college costs $60,000, then the student’s need is $35,000. If a college reports they meet 90% of students’ need than the financial aid offer to this student would cover close to 90% of $35,000. This doesn’t mean all the aid will be free – most likely it will be a combination of loans, grants, and work-study.

% of Students Receiving Merit Aid – This information tells me what percent of students receive merit aid. It’s a good indication for finding a generous college, because if a high percent of the study bodies receive merit aid, the likelihood that my student will get merit aid increases.

Average Merit Award – Another good piece of information. I’d like to find a school that has a high average merit award number, like something close to $20,000 or more.

Average Net Price – This is the price that families pay after deducting their EFC and any aid they receive. If I calculate the Average Merit Award, as a percent of the Average Net Price, this gives me a good idea of how generous a school is – the higher the percent is, the more generous the school is.

With all the information above, I can get a good idea of how generous a college is by understanding how many students are receiving merit aid, what size the merit aid offer is, and what percent of the net price the merit aid represent.  


Where Can I Find The Information I Need?

So, what’s holding me back from finding these schools? The college search sites don’t make it easy to search based on these specific pieces of information (shocking – right!), nor do they even give you access to all this information in one site. 

If families are going to make informed decisions, they have to have data to compare colleges in an easy way. That’s why Michelle Kretzschmar (of DIY College Rankings) and I developed College Money Search, a service to match students to colleges that can offer them the most money in financial aid and/or merit scholarships. With this report, we help families “follow the money” to schools that are more likely to be generous and offer students financial aid or merit scholarships. The approach is grounded in data, using our own database, built with information from multiple sources, which is not available publicly together in any other source. When you order a Custom College Money Report we’ll give you:  

• A list of 50 – 60 colleges that are likely offer your student the most financial aid or merit scholarships

• A list of all your state schools and their financial aid data

• An indication of whether any schools on your list offer full-ride scholarships

• Financial aid and admissions data on up to 10 schools you provide

Here’s a sample of what a College Money Report looks like…..

College Money Search

Sample list of Custom College Money Report


By Debbie Schwartz, Founder of Road2College, whose mission is to reach parents earlier in their child’s school career with unbiased information about college admissions and financing. 


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