Questions to Ask Before Your Student Accepts Merit Scholarships

Woman and Man Looking at a Computer with woman explaining something to the man

Questions to Ask Before Your Student Accepts Merit Scholarships

Published January 22, 2020 | Last Updated April 28th, 2024 at 08:04 am

Woman and Man Looking at a Computer with woman explaining something to the man

If we close our eyes and click our ruby red shoes, like Dorothy, we can dream things will go smoothly in the land of merit scholarships.

• You do everything “right.”
• Apply to colleges you can almost (theoretically by smoke & miracles) quasi-afford, without utterly crippling yourself in debt.
• Apply to colleges that seem like a good academic, social and financial fit.
• Ultimately enroll at an institution offering either enough merit and/or need scholarships to fill you with both relief and pride.

Phew. We all wish it was this easy.

Instead, here are a few issues from a “been there, done that” parent, paying it forward with advice most of us never realize we’ll have to deal with…until we do.  

Know the Merit Scholarship Requirements

Most of us do pay attention to the requirements to keep a merit scholarship.

A good rule of thumb is expect your student’s college GPA to be a quarter point lower than his/her HS GPA.

Meaning if you graduated high school with a 3.25, a 3.0 is a reasonable expectation for your college GPA.

So accepting a merit scholarship with a 2.75 requirement under those circumstances would seem reasonable and fair. But there’s an important follow up question you should be asking the admissions office:

“How many first year students accept this scholarship – and how many fourth-year students still have it?”

That’s important!

I found out firsthand, just how important it would have been to ask that question when my son was deciding on accepting a merit scholarships.

Just the other week, I found out that 53 out of the 350 students who started with the renewable merit scholarship my son accepted as a freshman still have it now in their Senior year.

Two admissions officers had never been asked that question before. They had to have their Director pull up the stats.

Whatever the reasons, (maybe some students transferred out, quit college, actually lost the scholarship, etc.) only 15% that start with college with that particular merit scholarship, end up finishing with it.

In fact, my son came precariously close to losing it himself – twice!

Nevertheless, those are sobering odds that are better to know in advance when you’re selecting a college based in part on renewable merit scholarships.

And while you’re asking questions, get answers to the following:

  • Exactly when is scholarship eligibility reassessed? Semester or calendar year?
  • Is there a grace period or probationary period if a student doesn’t make the benchmark?
  • What are the completion rate percentages or a minimum number of credits required per semester?

Armed with the above information, your student can know whether they need to withdraw from classes that threaten their GPA or request incompletes from professors so that any questionable grades are not  inputted when scholarship qualifications are reassessed.

Another member of the Paying For College 101 Facebook group shared her daughter’s story and advice for paying attention to a school’s grading scale and how it can impact GPAs.

“When looking at GPA for renewable scholarships, look at the grading scale for the school. My daughter was close one year with B’s and she had to keep a 3.0. The transcript does not use +\-, just the letter grade BUT for a B-, you are awarded 2.75 toward your GPA. We learned the scholarship is dependent on solid B and above for it to be renewable!”

Ask About Freshman Retention and 4-Year Graduation Rates

Knowing each college’s freshman retention rate and their 4-year graduation rate is also important. Because it reveals how many students (for one reason or another) leave, drop out or transfer from that college.

A low retention rate and a low 4-year graduation rate are red flags indicating you should double check if there are valid, almost insurmountable reasons why so few students actually complete their degree there.

You can usually find this information on college’s websites, Googling “{college name} + common data set” or using Road2College’s R2C Insights tool

Here’s a disclaimer though, for how to interpret the numbers – if the percent of Pell Eligible students at the college is very high, understand that low retention and 4-year grad rates are NOT necessarily a red flag.

It’s safe to assume a significant factor in their lower rates come from students not having enough money to afford to continue their studies without interruption.

Need-Based Aid and Multiple Students in College 

If you’re getting ANY need-based aid whatsoever, (or if you’re close-to-eligible for need aid) consider this… If a sibling will either be graduating college before the other one finishes or will be starting while they’re still there, you need to know how this will impact what you will have to pay for college.

Factor in and expect tuition increases ranging from 1-5% depending on the school.

Run the net price calculator to get the price it will cost you when there’s one student compared to when then are two students enrolled in college at the same time. This will allow you to more accurately project your actual costs over 4-years.

All the above was not something I had the presence of mind to think about when my first and second kids went through the admissions process.

Run the numbers at each school you’re considering, but be sure to calculate the next 4-years factoring in however many siblings will be in college. It can potentially change your costs A LOT, negatively or positively.


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.  

👉 Looking for expert help on the road to college? See our Preferred Partner List!

Other Articles You Might Like:

10 Ways a Parent Can Help Their Student Prepare for College

How to Motivate Juniors to Start the College Process

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