Don’t good grades matter anymore?
Many parents with children who excel in school are frustrated by the lack of funding for these bright students. While there seem to be thousands of scholarships available, many are highly specialized and not all students qualify. Filling out private scholarship applications can become a full-time job, for a paltry $100 or $500 one-time awards.
Understanding merit based scholarships and how they fit in to the overall college funding picture is vital. Let’s take a look at the merit of these merit scholarships.
Understanding Private Merit Scholarships
When we talk about private scholarships, we’re talking specifically about those scholarships not awarded by the school or a government program. Private scholarships come from corporations, non-profits, and community organizations.
The problem is that most of these awards are quite small, and there’s a ton of competition. About 7 percent of undergrad students receive private scholarships, and the average value is under $2,000.
Given that in-state tuition is around $25,000 a year and a private school is close to twice as much, is it really worth the time and effort to search for merit based private scholarships?
There are some “high-dollar scholarships,” but they tend to have one winner in thousands of applicants. National Merit Scholarships are only $2,500 – $7,000 per year, and they are among the largest awards available.
The bottom line with private scholarships is that your best bet is to apply for locally available awards. Enjoy what you can get, but don’t expect to make a big dent in the cost of school.
State and School Merit Scholarships
The state and individual schools also offer merit scholarships. These are simple to apply for – many times all you have to do is submit the FAFSA and school application.
If you want to follow the 80/20 rule for finding scholarship money, then focus your time on finding colleges that offer merit based scholarships and target those where your student is more likely to receive one. Colleges provide merit scholarships as an incentive for students, in the top quarter of the school’s test score/gpa range, to attend their institution. Generally, these students have academic qualifications that would contribute to improving the college’s academic profile.
At some schools, students are automatically considered for merit scholarships and the requirements are even posted on the school’s website. At other schools, students may need to apply for these scholarships and be aware of the school’s deadlines for being considered, which may be earlier than regular admissions deadlines.
Keep in mind that schools can set their own standards for maintaining a scholarship from year to year. Many schools require a specific GPA before a tuition scholarship or other merit aid can be applied to the sophomore year. That GPA must be maintained to keep the scholarship for the junior and senior years as well. It’s important you and your student understand all the requirements for maintaining whatever merit based scholarships that have been awarded by the school.
Sometimes a school or state award only applies to the freshman year. Keep that in mind as you prepare to pay for college – you may find that the freshman year has the most funding available, and money decreases over time. This is something to ask if and when your student is offered a merit scholarship. Find out how many years the scholarship is for.
Look for a Mix of College Funding
With the cost of school increasing, and the number of college-bound students growing as well, there will continue to be more competition for the same funding. Instead of just counting on good grades to give your student a full ride, expect to pull together money to pay for college from a variety of sources.
If you want to minimize college debt, look for ways to save for school as early as possible. Re-evaluate your household expenses to see if there are ways to cut costs and use that money to put towards college. Encourage your student to do well in school and get college credits while in high school by either taking AP classes and/or dual enrollment classes at a local college.
You can encourage – or require – your student to start with a low-cost community college before transferring to finish a four-year degree. Or, you can steer your child to schools that are the most likely to award need-based and merit aid.
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