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Merit Aid

Updated 5/21/2024

Are you hoping your senior will be able to spin good grades into financial aid gold? It could happen. Many colleges offer grant money based on the academic, athletic, artistic, or other merits of the applicants. In some cases, financial need may be considered, but often an institution uses merit aid to attract top applicants, regardless of their financial circumstances. To be clear, I'm using the term merit aid to refer to scholarship money awarded by a college that is only available to students who subsequently attend that school. I use the broader term scholarship to refer to awards, typically from non-profit organizations or businesses, that a student can use at any college. 

Who Gets Merit Aid?

As a general rule, if your teen is at the top of the applicant pool at a college, he may be offered merit aid as an enticement to get him to enroll. One exception to this rule, however, is the group of colleges that are the most selective. The Ivies, MIT, Stanford, and the like typically offer all their aid in the form of need-based aid, and the Ivies don't offer athletic scholarships, either. Don't write these schools off as too expensive, however. Their need-based aid packages can be extremely generous and extend even to families who earn a healthy income. If your daughter has her sights set on one of  these colleges, use its net price calculator to get an early estimate of what the cost of attendance will be for your family.

Unfortunately, I don't know a quick and easy way to search for colleges that have generous merit aid. However, once you've identified a school that you're interested in, go to the Admissions section of its website, or use the Search function, to look for scholarships. You should also ask your school counselor if she is aware of any colleges that would be a good fit for you and offer merit-based scholarships. Shopping for merit aid can be tiresome, but may pay big dividends and make an expensive college affordable for your family.

After exploring merit aid opportunities at specific colleges, your next step is looking for scholarship money that your teen could use anywhere. Start with the next article in this section, Scholarships.


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