How To Find Merit Scholarships

My father recently found and showed me a tuition bill he had saved from when I went to college. At that time (30 years ago) the tuition, room and board for a selective private school was a little over $12,000. This year, the same college costs $73,836!!

 
This isn’t new news if you’re a parent with a high school student in the college admissions process. It also isn’t new news that most families are in “no man’s land” meaning they don’t earn enough to pay for college without financial help, but they won’t be eligible for needs based aid. 
 
 
What’s the solution? You need to find schools that can offer your student merit-based aid and are generous in doing so.

 

 

Data Driven Approach For Finding Merit Based Scholarships

This is the approach I took when my daughter applied to college. She was accepted into all the schools is applied to, along with merit scholarships from each of them. 
 
 
It’s not a difficult approach, you just need to spend some time and gather all the data.
 
 
What’s most important is to research a school’s financial aid giving history. This will tell you how generous a school has been in the past, what have been the average size of their merit awards, and what percent of students who aren’t eligible for need based aid, received merit aid. 
 
 
In addition, your student needs to be in the top 25% of a school’s academic profile to have the best chance of being offered merit money. This doesn’t mean your student has to have straight As and a 34 ACT. It just means relative to the school’s admission quartiles, your student is in the top quartile.
 
 
So here are some steps:
  • Find out if a school even offers merit aid. It sounds basic, but that’s the first place to start. Some schools only offer aid based on financial need and nothing else. The Ivies are an example of schools that do not offer any merit-based scholarships.

 

  • Look for how many freshmen, without financial need, receive merit aid? This means there are students that do not have financial need (as determined by the college), who are receiving financial aid in the form of merit scholarships. This data comes from the Common Data Set, which reports what percent of freshmen, which don’t demonstrate financial need (meaning their expected family contribution is equal to or higher than tuition) still receive merit aid from the school.  

 

  • What is the average amount of merit aid granted? This data again comes from the Common Data Set, where schools report the average dollar amount of merit aid that is offered to freshmen. This ranges anywhere from $1000 to full tuition, but a fair number of schools offer between $10,000 – $20,000.

 

  • How much is the average merit aid as a % of the overall total cost of the college? The dollar amount of merit aid is only good if it makes a dent in the cost of the college. A merit award of $10,000 from a school that costs $30,000 is much more signficiant than from a school that costs $60,000.

 

  • How many non-freshman, undergraduates receive merit aid and how much? Just because a college offers merit aid to freshmen, doesn’t mean they will continue to offer it to sophomores thru seniors. This is important to research since you don’t want to choose a school based on the freshman year offer, only to find out merit aid isn’t offered in subsequent years or it’s significantly decreased.

 

 

Data Sources To Use To Find Merit Based Scholarships

This isn’t too difficult, but what’s time consuming is finding all this data in one place so you can filter, sort, and compare the schools in an easy fashion. 
 
 
You can find this information from desperate, different sources and you can search individual schools for this data, but without having it ALL together, you have no way of knowing if you’ve found ALL the schools that might offer your student merit scholarship money. 
 
 
That’s why we’ve gathered ALL the information you need to do this research in one tool – our College Data Spreadsheet. Included is information from IPEDS (the government source on college information) and all publicly available Common Data Set information.
 
 
You can use the spreadsheet to answer questions like this:
 
“What is the list of schools where my student, with an ACT of 30, will be in the top 25% percentile, have a 4 year graduation rate of 75% or greater, give merit scholarships to 50% or more of students who do not qualify for need based financial aid, and the average merit scholarship is $20,000 or more.”
 
 

 

 
 

Stay Organized During Your College Search

In addition to helping find schools offering merit scholarships, the spreadsheet is a great tool to keep all the information organized on schools your student is considering, and without either of you needing to spend time compiling the data yourselves. 
 
 
Are you in a similar situation to this parent from our Paying For College 101 group?
 
 
“I am hoping I have missed some obvious place where I can do this….I am currently helping my DS make a spreadsheet that lets us compare schools on these basic variables–avg gpa, avg ACT, admissions rate, net price. I cannot do this on naviance, college navigator, niche, collegehunch or big future. Help! We have spent so much time manually entering information and are barely half way done. Is there some service that will let me do this painlessly? TIA”
 
 
If you’re still not sure the spreadsheet is worth it, here’s what one member said about her experience using the spreadsheet…
 
 
“This is really worth it. The amount of time saved makes it so worth the money. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gone back to the master spreadsheet and now I’ve made scaled-down ones with just the colleges that are still in the running with just the data we find most important for both my daughters.”

 

Find Out More About Our College Data Spreadsheet…
 

 

 

 

CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PAY FOR COLLEGE

JOIN ONE OR ALL OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS

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by Debbie Schwartz, founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. With an expertise in personal finance, analysis, and marketing, Debbie works to give families the education, data, and tools to make more informed college purchasing decisions. SaveSave

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