How to Find Schools with the Largest Merit-Based Scholarships

parent, teen looking for scholarships

How to Find Schools with the Largest Merit-Based Scholarships

parent, teen looking for scholarships

Don’t qualify for need-based aid but still can’t pay for college? Merit aid, which is the money colleges award that’s not based on any financial need–can help. These scholarships are usually given based on academic performance and special talents. In our recent Facebook Live, Jeff Selingo, author of the new book Who Gets In and Why, said that in spite of the financial hardships schools are facing as a result of the pandemic, “There may be more merit scholarships next year because schools will be desperate to fill seats.” One of the biggest financial mistakes families make when applying to schools is considering costs AFTER getting in. It’s essential that you do it BEFORE you apply. 

Here Are the Top 10 Schools with the Largest Merit Scholarships 

To help you research schools that are a good fit academically and financially, we used our interactive College Insights tool and searched for colleges with merit scholarships. We then ranked them by the amount of merit aid they gave to freshmen without financial need (as determined by the college). The information in the tool is compiled from multiple sources, one of which is the Common Data Set. Although the Data Set is published by many colleges (but not all) on their websites, there’s been no easy way, or central place, to search, sort, and filter, until now. 

Debbie: Insert table of top ten schools 

Find the Right School at the Right Price for Your Student 

While researching and writing Who Gets In and Why, Selingo developed a concept he calls Buyers and Sellers. Here’s how he describes it:

“The sellers are the ‘haves’ of admissions. They are overwhelmed with applications, many from top students. They don’t need to buy students with tuition discounts to fill their classrooms. Most sellers offer financial assistance only to students who really need it or are truly exceptional. 

“The buyers are the ‘have-nots’ in terms of admissions—although they might provide a superior undergraduate education. Rather than ‘select’ a class, their admissions officers must work hard to recruit students and they must discount tuition through merit aid to fill classroom seats and beds in dorm rooms.”

Selingo says sellers “make up a fairly small number of four-year colleges and universities, less than 10 percent. The vast majority of schools are somewhere on the spectrum of buyers.” He made the list because he spoke to a great number of students who applied to top schools, got in, and then didn’t qualify for financial aid because they missed the cutoff for need-based aid. At that point it was too late to apply to other schools. 

In a nutshell, he says, “They had too many sellers on their list of schools and not enough buyers.” 

Use These Tools to Build Your College List and Avoid Costly Mistakes

It’s important to remember that just because a college offers a large average merit award, it doesn’t mean a lot of students receive that award–you’ll need to also research how many students actually do. In reality, the percentage of freshmen who receive merit-based awards and don’t have financial need varies greatly–from a low of 2% to a high of 100%.

College Insights (CI) can quickly help you determine which schools are within your reach scholastically and financially BEFORE you apply. Just enter your student’s stats and preferences and the tool will quickly indicate the schools where your student is likely to receive merit scholarships and/or need-based aid. 

College Insights also breaks down admissions rates into ED (early decision)/EA (early action), as well as regular admissions, along with the percentage of the class admitted through ED. Other sites only provide the overall admission rates, which blend everything together. 

In addition, you can sort by which schools are FAFSA only, which schools have honors programs and co-ops, and which schools include data on the average debt of graduates. 

For More Information

Read about Jeff Selingo’s Buyers and Sellers in more detail in his newest book, and try the new College Insights Tool for free.

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