At a recent college finance seminar presented by NextStepU, Rick Ross of College Financing Group delivered a message most families engaged in the college application process need to hear: most financial “aid” is not aid at all, but rather a package of student and parent loans. However, students may receive actual grants or scholarships on the basis of either need or merit. We don’t generally strive for need-based aid because, well, need comes with its own challenges. Merit, on the other hand, is worth pursuing for so many reasons.
Every year, we see how higher test scores translate to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in merit aid. But the process of determining who awards merit aid adds even more complexity to an already byzantine college search process. Fortunately, you can find some tools to make your search at least a little easier.
Back in 2012, Education Life, the higher education quarterly of The New York Times, published an interactive list of more than 600 colleges and universities that award merit aid. While a list this long can be difficult to navigate, each column is sortable. Thus, we can easily see that the average merit aid award at Trinity College in Hartford, CT was $41,980. Before you add Trinity to your list, though, pay attention to the column describing Freshmen getting merit aid. At <1%, your odds of scoring that massive scholarship are slim! The Education Life list does not seem to have been updated since 2012 but serves as a good resource regardless. Another helpful tool published more recently comes from U.S. News & World Report. The Colleges That Award the Most Students Merit Aid Map shows the colleges that reported the highest percentages of students who did not need financial aid, but who were awarded merit aid during the in the 2013-2014 academic year in an annual U.S. News survey. Western New Yorkers will be pleased to see University of Rochester on the map. According to U.S. News, U. of R provided non-need-based aid to 31% of students.
Merit aid is the best kind of aid since this money does not need to be paid back. So be sure to invest in earning merit aid both by working towards superior SAT & ACT scores and by working with experts in uncovering where you can earn the most merit aid.