Category Archives: Affordability

Merit Scholarships from Colleges

As college admissions have become more competitive and the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket, schools are offering more and more merit scholarships to entice top-tier students to attend and increase affordability. Applicants now have access to a wider range of non need-based scholarships, based on talent in academics and other areas.  Each college has its own method of awarding funds, so it is important to research the merit aid process at each school on your college list.

Some colleges, such as Tulane, automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. However, other schools, including Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University,  require applicants to complete a separate merit scholarship application and/or essay. Some institutions have an early cut-off date—such as November 15th in the case of Emory—by which students in contention for merit aid must apply. Finally, there are also colleges like the University of Rochester that offer further merit scholarships to returning students, in addition to any money they were promised as incoming freshmen.

Factors that Determine Merit Aid

Schools determine which candidates will receive merit awards by weighing a variety of factors including grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of the student’s high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.

Keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by your extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles.  Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships. Colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, athletic, service or career interests.

Automatic Consideration

Some colleges, such as TulaneOberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Schools such as Lehigh and USC also offer a wide array of merit scholarship opportunities. Most colleges will consider students for merit aid just based on the application for admission, but some require that students complete the FAFSA or to click “yes” on the Common Application to being considered for merit scholarships at that particular school.

By Application

Some schools require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid and require the submission of additional essays.  The Premier Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis requires a separate application and participation in an all-expenses-paid weekend program for scholarship finalists during March.

At Vanderbilt University, once a student applies for admission, they are emailed within two days to set up their MyAppVU account, which has a scholarship section to be completed by December 1st in order to be considered for all merit scholarships at Vanderbilt.

Schools that Award High Percentages of Merit Aid

The following chart lists a selection of schools that awarded the most merit aid to students who “had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid” for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to U.S. News & World Report.

School % of Students Receiving Non-Need Based Aid
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering 53%
Cooper Union 46%
Denison University 41%
Oberlin College 41%
Fairfield University 40%
University of Denver 40%
Tulane University 39%
University of Portland 39%
The New School 38%
Case Western Reserve University 33%
Clark University 33%
St. Michael’s College 33%
Hobart and William Smith Colleges 32%
Muhlenberg College 32%
Drexel University 31%
University of Vermont 31%


Benefits Associated with Merit Scholarships

When evaluating different options, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities, such as access to leadership and study abroad programs, and internships with program alumni.

Another example is the Bonner Scholars Program at the University of Richmond, which is tied to a deep commitment to community service. Scholarship recipients intern for 10 hours a week for four years at an organization that aligns with their service goals. Bonner Scholars also participate in on-campus reflective exercises and educational programming.

The Emory Scholars Program offers unique programming, a strong community, early class registration, as well as other benefits.

College is expensive, and there are many paths to finding your “best-fit” as well as maximizing the best deal. For more guidance and information on college-sponsored merit scholarships, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help.

National Essay Contests

If you’re a high school student who enjoys writing, there are plenty of national essay contests you can participate in – many of which include large rewards for the winners and finalists!

Awards range from monetary scholarships, cash amounts, all-expenses paid trips, and even donations to school libraries. For example, the JFK Profile in Courage Essay Contest combines scholarships, cash awards and travel: the winner receives a $5,000 cash award, $5,000 to invest in a college savings plan, and travel and lodging expenses to attend the ceremony in Boston.

Each contest has its own requirements, and they fall into a variety of categories: Literary Analysis, Politics & History, Personal Reflection, those geared to specific career fields such as science or journalism, as well as scholarships from religious and ethnic organizations.  Check the application deadlines; if the deadline has passed for 2017, mark your calendar for next year!

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis contests are based on a specific piece of literature, and they are judged on both writing style and content. Judges look for writing that is clear, articulate and logically organized. Students should demonstrate a solid grasp of the themes and messages in the work about which they’re writing. For example, the Ayn Rand Institute hosts yearly essay contests for students from 8th grade through graduate school. Currently, topics center on three of Rand’s popular novels, Anthem (8th, 9th, 10th), Atlas Shrugged (12th grade, college and graduate), and The Fountainhead (11th, 12th).

Penguin’s national essay contest, The 19th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest is offered to students in 11th or 12th grade. This contest focuses on a different work each year — The Tempest in 2017 — and requires students to choose one of five topics. The topics include questions about character traits, themes, settings, and values.

Politics & History

Common themes of national essay contests include modern-day politics, past figures, and historical ideals or philosophies. These essays are analytical in nature and tend to be an opportunity for students to develop and enhance research, writing, and critical thinking skills.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation invites high school students to “consider the concept of political courage by writing an essay on a U.S. elected official who has chosen to do what is right, rather than what is expedient” through  The Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Students are required to write an essay of 700 to 1,000 words, and to use at least five varied sources.

Open to all high school students, the Sons of the American Revolution offers the George S. & Stella M. Knight Essay Contest. The topic should deal with an event, person, philosophy, or ideal associated with the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, or the framing of the United States Constitution. Sources must include published book sources, and the essays are judged on historical accuracy, clarity of thought, organization, grammar, and documentation.

Personal Reflection

A plethora of essay contests allow students to submit reflections of a more personal – rather than historical or literary – nature. Many offer opportunities to write a letter, such as the essay required for the National World War II Museum’s Annual Essay Contest. This competition, “Dear Mr. Thompson,” focuses on the historical letter of James G. Thompson, who brought awareness to the effects of World War II on African Americans. The contest requires students to respond to Thompson’s concerns about the availability of liberty and justice for all Americans, regardless of their race, identity, or background. Though based in a historical context, essays should be written using examples from students’ own lives and experiences.

Some contests allow students to be highly creative and themes are open-ended. The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) hosts an essay contest for students in 7th through 12th grade to promote the spirit of Americanism and patriotism. The essay is only 350 words, and has the theme “What the United States Flag Stands For.” Similarly, the Joe Foss Institute’s Hayes C Kirby Essay Scholarship Contest asks students to respond to “If not for them…where would we be?” with a minimum of 1500 words. It encourages entrants to be creative, while developing a clearly defined theme.

Specific Career Fields

Many essay contests focus on a specific field of study or career path. We are sad to report that after 30 years, The DuPont Challenge, the premier science essay contest for middle school and high school students, has been discontinued. 250,000 students in the United States and Canada reaped the satisfaction of participating. For students who love research and science writing, the National High School Journal of Science offers the opportunity to publish your research findings, in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, environment, STEM, and policy.

For those interested in writing and journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists offers a high school essay contest in order to “increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media.” In a 300-500 word essay, students respond to a different topic each year. The topic for 2017 was, “Why is it important for a democratic society to have women involved in professional media and legal roles?”

Religious and Ethnic Scholarships

Some contents are sponsored by religious or ethnic groups, which typically require candidates to be affiliated with that particular group.

For example, the National Italian American Foundation has a list of scholarships that it sponsors, but to be eligible, a contestant must have at least one ancestor who emigrated from Italy, a 3.5 to 4.0 GPA, and be an NIAF member or have a parent or guardian who is a member. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic organization, has several scholarships available to the children and grandchildren of its members. The Young Christian Leaders Scholarship requires contestants to be active members of their church and submit two letters of recommendation.

The Morris J. & Betty Kaplun Foundation Essay Contests are for students in 7th through 12th grade. These essays focus on questions about maintaining your Jewish identity in a secular world and combating anti-Semitism on college campuses. The B’nai B’rith International Diverse Minds Writing Challenge is open to all high school students in 9th through 12th grade in each city/region where the contest takes place. This contest asks students to write and illustrate a children’s book that tells a story of tolerance, diversity or inclusion. The winner in each city/region receives a $5,000 college scholarship and becomes a published author.

Local Scholarships

Sometimes, the scholarships that you have the greatest chance of winning are those sponsored by your high school or city/town because the pool of applicants is smaller, and you likely have a stronger connection to the sponsoring organizations. Many high school guidance offices or parents’ associations have a list of scholarships that you can apply to. Some even post scholarships on the school website. For example, Paul D. Schreiber High School, Scarsdale High School, and Locust Valley Central School District, all list scholarships that vary in whether they are awarded based on merit or financial need.

In Conclusion

Students with an interest and talent in writing should explore the many opportunities that lie within national essay contests. With such a wide range of topics, there’s something for everyone, and you may even start to build up some funds for college!

Of course, there are many more essay competitions and scholarship opportunities than are mention here. If you’d like to learn more, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.


The Higher Cost of Higher Learning

As tuition costs continue to increase, more and more recent graduates are saddled with large college debt, and many are questioning the value of a college education. Is a college degree still worth it? How can students ensure that they are making a financially sound investment in their future? And what is driving the spiraling increase in college costs?

The Cost of College

The cost of college is far outstripping increases in U.S. wages and inflation. According to CNBC News, “Between 2000 and 2013, the average level of tuition and fees at a four-year public college rose by 87 percent (in 2014 dollars); during that same period, the median income for the middle fifth of American households advanced just 24 percent.”

Over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, while tuition at private universities has increased approximately 271% since 1975.

“If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation,” said Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “That’s brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”

According to CNBC News, costs have risen sharply as schools compete for top faculty, build and maintain state-of-the-art facilities, and attempt to attract prospective students with impressive campus amenities. There is also the increasing cost of college athletic programs and coaching salaries, especially at small Division I programs.

Another key factor in rising costs is the continual expansion of school administration. A professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, performed an analysis which found that between 1975 and 2008, the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from only 11,614 to 12,019; in contrast, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183. Moreover, the compensation for high-ranking university administrators is trending toward seven-figure salaries. Ironically, teaching salaries have remained relatively flat.

Despite this rapid – and alarming – increase in the operating costs of universities, it is important to note that, according to U.S. News & World Report, almost no one pays the actual sticker price. In 2014-2015, almost 90 percent of incoming freshmen at private universities were given some type of institutional grant or scholarship aid, according to a study from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Student Debt

As public subsidies for schools have dropped to their lowest numbers in 10 years, college students are now paying half or more of their education costs, according to Delta Price Project researchers. As a result, the total level of student debt outstanding is at more than $1.2 trillion, there are more than 40 million borrowers, and the average balance is $29,000.

This large debt has resulted in significant life changes for recent college graduates. Men and women struggling with student debt “are postponing marriage, childbearing and home purchases, and…pretty evidently limiting the percentage of young people who start a business or try to do something entrepreneurial,” said Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and the former Republican governor of Indiana. “Every citizen and taxpayer should be concerned about it.”

In general, data still continues to show that college graduates have more career options and financial opportunity than those who have only earned a high school diploma. In 2012, full-time employees with bachelor’s degrees earned 60 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma. However, graduates dealing with large student debt may not experience as many benefits.

Additionally, high debt and lower job security has resulted in more and more students choosing to pursue higher-paying careers in the tech industry and financial services. Fewer graduates are seeking professions like social work, education, and health care. Similarly, the debt created by college costs may also cause graduates to be more risk-averse and less entrepreneurial. A study by Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania State found that more student debt led to the formation of fewer small businesses between 2000 and 2010, with a 14 percent decline for small businesses with one to four employees.

The Value of a College Degree

Despite the consequences of student debt, Americans continue to believe strongly in the importance of higher education. A survey of 1,000 parents conducted by Discover Student Loans found that 95 percent want a college education for their child, but increasingly parents are becoming more price-conscious or unable to pay for college. 25% of the survey’s parents said they could not contribute to their child’s college education.

“Credentialism” is the trend in many professions to screen for higher qualifications for jobs that may not require them. A 2014 study by Burning Glass, a labor analytics firm, revealed that while only 42 percent of current management employees had earned bachelor’s degrees, 68 percent of managerial job postings required a bachelor’s degree. In computer and mathematical positions, 39 percent of workers had bachelor’s degrees, and in contrast, 60 percent of new job listings called for them.

According to Time Money, “It is not that college graduates are earning so much more, but that the incomes and economic opportunities for high-school-only graduates have collapsed.” The bachelor’s degree is becoming a requirement for many middle-skill careers that previously did not necessitate having one.

According to CNN Money, Goldman Sachs reports that many students do not benefit from going to mediocre colleges, ones that rank in the bottom 25% of all universities. These students may be better off going to 2-year schools or doing other kinds of training. Students who attend top-tier universities and major in business, healthcare, and tech see much higher returns on their education in terms of future salaries.

The Impact of Specific Majors

Students are increasingly focused on particular college majors that will lead to employment and have greater earning potential. According to U.S. News, “The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on – and necessity for – career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”

Engineering, finance and accounting majors receive a specific technical education and often have the opportunity to intern at companies that are preparing and considering them for full-time jobs. Many of these candidates get direct offers after their internships.

Nevertheless, Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, warns against choosing a vocational major based on the hot jobs of today, because these positions might not exist by a student’s graduation date. Highly tailored majors, such as social media or sports management, are popular but can result in unemployment or settling for low-paying jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree.

The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

“Graduates studying lower paying majors such as arts, education and psychology face the highest risk of a negative return,” notes Goldman. “For them, college may not increasingly be worth it.”

However, college education is complex and cannot be simply reduced to a cost-benefit analysis. Peter Cappelli, asks families to be more realistic about the role of college degrees and to appreciate the actual merits of a traditional broad-based education, often called a liberal-arts education.

“To be clear, the idea is not that there will be a big financial payoff to a liberal arts degree,” Cappelli writes. “It is that there is no guarantee of a payoff from very practical, work-based degrees either, yet that is all those degrees promise. For liberal arts, the claim is different and seems more accurate, that it will enrich your life and provide lessons that extend beyond any individual job. There are centuries of experience providing support for that notion.”

According to U.S. News, “employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires.”

Liberal arts majors are not only finding employment in education and the creative industries. Charles River Associates, a litigation consulting firm that serves the financial services and technology industries, mostly recruits liberal arts graduates.

“We are hiring almost exclusively from liberal arts schools,” explains CRA Vice President Monica Noether, because intellectual curiosity is “exactly the kind of thinking [that] good liberal arts programs do to train their students.”

In Conclusion

Choosing an educational path is an extremely complicated – and extremely individual – process. No matter what today’s prevailing trends may be, there is no one-size-fits-all plan that will guarantee high salaries and low debt.

However, there are steps that all students and families should take in order to identify their best-fit options. A college education remains valuable, but it is more important than ever to plan your journey in the most informed and reasonable manner possible. During high school, pursue volunteer and internship opportunities that will allow you to gain exposure to careers that might interest you, and speak to people in your fields of interest to learn how they found success in their chosen career paths. By clarifying your strengths and interests earlier, you may be able to identify scholarship and grant opportunities that will further help you afford your educational goals.

By gaining a greater understanding of your future goals, you can make decisions regarding colleges and academic programs that will allow you to grow and thrive, as well as weigh a college’s features against the price of tuition. In short, you’ll be able to find the best college for the best price.

That said, identifying possible paths should not mean committing to one. Remain open to exploring the variety of academic and career options that you encounter. Once you begin college, there are many resources available to assist you in course and career planning. You should take every advantage of these support tools and networks, as these will only further help you maximize the value of your college experience.

The journey of college admissions is an exciting yet stressful road. Collegiate Gateway is always happy to help, as you embark on this inspiring process of educational possibilities!


The FAFSA: To File or Not to File?

If your family is able to fully fund your child’s college education, you might feel that there is no reason for you to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You may think you won’t qualify, and may even believe there is an advantage to demonstrating to colleges that you are able to pay full tuition. There is some credence to these concerns. On the other hand, if your child is gifted academically or talented in a unique field of interest (for example, athletics, arts, or community leadership), you could be missing out on consideration for the segment of merit scholarships that require submission of a FAFSA form. In the end, deciding whether or not to file is a complex decision based on a number of factors.

Can filing the FAFSA hurt admissions chances?

Since the economic downturn in 2008, students who are able to pay full tuition are perhaps more desirable to some colleges. As a result, many families worry that indicating an intent to file the FAFSA will impact their child’s admission negatively.  This concern does have some validity. Whether or not it actually will depends primarily on two factors:

  • Whether the college’s policy is need-blind or need-aware, as well as the percentage of needs-met.  The “need-blind” and “need-aware” policies apply to the admissions process itself.  “Need-blind” means that the college reviews applications without consideration of the applicant’s intent to file the FAFSA. Examples of schools that use need-blind admissions policies include MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Amherst College, and Dartmouth. “Need-aware” colleges, on the other hand, take the applicant’s intent to file the FAFSA into consideration when they make admissions decisions. Colgate University, Washington University in St. Louis, Occidental College, Gettysburg College, and Bryn Mawr College are examples of schools that use need-aware admissions policies.

“Needs-met” is a financial aid policy that refers to the percent of the applicant’s financial need that is met AFTER the applicant is accepted and decides to matriculate; it comes into play only during the process of granting financial awards. While Harvard and MIT are need-blind, these schools also meet 100% of an admitted student’s demonstrated financial need. On the other hand, Boston University and NYU use a need-blind admissions policy, but do not guarantee that they will fully meet a student’s demonstrated need. Therefore, a student might be admitted, but not receive the financial assistance necessary to pay the tuition. According to Union College, they are need-aware, because “once we admit you to Union, we will find a way for you to attend. We will put together a realistic financial aid package based on your family’s ability to pay, and you will most likely be able to afford our school.”

  • The college’s financial resources, as reflected in the endowment. Colleges use their endowment, not their annual operating budget, to fund financial aid.  After the 2008 economic downturn, most colleges’ endowment took a hit. As a result, many were required to alter their policies toward funding both need-based and merit-based financial aid.

Indeed, some colleges that were formerly “need-blind” became “need-aware.” Wesleyan University, Reed College, and George Washington University, for example, have moved away from an entirely need-blind admissions policy to a combination of need-blind and need-aware admissions. Wesleyan estimates that they admit about 90% of students through a need-blind process, and then consider need as an admissions factor for the remainder. Therefore, if a student’s application is on the fringe of qualifying for their admissions standards, their financial ability to pay is considered.

What if I don’t think I’ll qualify for financial aid?

Some families feel that a high income will not prevent them from qualifying for any financial aid. Others believe that their child’s grades are not high enough to be considered for scholarships, or that the FAFSA form is too confusing and time-consuming.

The perception that your family’s income is too high to quality for need-based financial aid may be inaccurate.  Filling out the FAFSA enables students to learn about the possible scholarships, grants, federal work-study programs, and student loans for which they might be eligible.

In reality, colleges and the federal government consider many factors in determining who is eligible for financial aid, including the number of children in your family, how many of these children are simultaneously attending college, and the age of the oldest parent.

More importantly, each college evaluates the FAFSA in a different way.  Colleges are now required to post a financial aid calculator on their websites to provide applicants with an estimate of the amount of financial aid they can expect from, given their particular financial situation. Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and the publisher of, provides several calculators to help families estimate how much school will cost, how much they need to save, and how much aid they will need, as well as a wealth of information concerning scholarships.

Submitting the FAFSA can help you obtain merit aid.

Even if you are able to pay the full sticker price for college, filling out the FAFSA can open doors to free money: merit scholarships. According to the Office of Federal Student Aid, “Some schools won’t even consider you for any of their scholarships (including academic scholarships) until you’ve submitted a FAFSA. Don’t make assumptions about what you’ll get— fill out the application and find out.”

If a student’s academic profile would place the student in the top 10% of the matriculating class (in other words, the student is likely to be admitted), the college may be more inclined to offer merit-based aid. Some schools, like Tulane University, University of Miami, University of Chicago, and University of Southern California, give many merit-based scholarships to entice highly qualified students to attend.

Merit offers can serve a variety of functions regarding yield, or the likelihood of attendance.  “Rather than lose bright students to less-expensive public colleges, universities like Tulane offer sizable amounts of aid based mainly on academic promise,” states the New York Times.  In addition, some public universities use merit aid to draw wealthy students from private universities, according to Donald Heller, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Education.  Finally, many of the most selective colleges in the country, including the Ivies, do not award merit-based aid, and other colleges, such as Chicago, use merit aid to lure high-performing applicants to matriculate.

When Should You File the FAFSA?

Even if you have not checked off an intention to file the FAFSA on your child’s college application, you can reconsider this option and still apply for financial aid. The FAFSA can be filed online on or after January 1 of each year, using your family’s estimated taxes from the previous year if your current taxes have not yet been filed. The FAFSA application takes the average person about 1-2 hours to complete, according to the Department of Education.

For students applying in the fall of 2014 for matriculation in the fall of 2015, the federal deadline for the online FAFSA is midnight Central Time, June 30, 2015.  Note that each state has a different deadline, and that colleges may have different deadlines as well.  Most importantly, keep in mind that there are advantages to filing as early as possible, because “Most student financial aid is limited (there isn’t always enough for everyone who applies) and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis,” according to Student Financial Aid Services, an established aid advisory group.

Navigating the financial affordability of college and opportunities for scholarships and grants can be an overwhelming prospect. There is no one right answer for everyone; each family must decide what makes the most sense given their financial situation.

For more information about financial aid and the scholarship opportunities available to you, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Merit Scholarships: A Beginner’s Guide

There are many need-based financial aid opportunities out there for college students. But for those who don’t qualify–or who don’t qualify for enough–there are a large number of merit-based scholarship options as well.  With perseverance and dedication, some students have been able to finance nearly their entire college education through merit aid!  The question is: how do you find these opportunities?

As always, we’re here to help!

Scholarships from Colleges

Often, students receive merit aid directly from colleges themselves. These usually come in the form of “merit awards,” determined by a variety of factors including your academic performance: grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of your high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.

But keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by your extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles.  Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships; colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, service or career interests.

Some colleges, such as Tulane, Oberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships.  Other colleges require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid, and require the submission of additional essays.  For example, the University of Richmond encourages students who have demonstrated strong involvement in community service to apply for the Bonner Scholars Program.  Emory provides the opportunity for entering freshmen to become Emory Scholars. Likewise, Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University have numerous merit scholarships that students need to actively apply for.

The colleges with the highest percentage of students receiving non-need-based aid range from specialized colleges, such as Olin College of Engineering, School of the Art Institute of Chicago and New England Conservatory of Music, to small liberal arts colleges such as Rhodes College, to medium-sized national research university such as Tulane. Additionally, according to recent data from the New York Times, the colleges with the highest average merit award included Trinity College, with $41,980 average merit aid (95% of the tuition/fees of $44,070) and University of Richmond, with $36,860 average merit aid (85% of $43,170 tuition/fees).

When evaluating different options, however, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities – in this case, access to leadership programs, study abroad, and internships with program alumni. As with any of the college-granted scholarships, the best sources of information on these programs can be found on the college websites themselves.

State-based scholarships

State scholarships are awarded either directly by your college through state-based programs or via local scholarships, and are another very common way to earn merit aid. Resources such as Cappex and Fastweb can help you search for opportunities particular to your state.  For example, let’s focus on New York State.

New York Scholarships: You can get scholarships just by being a resident of the Empire State… and by being a good student. The Scholarship For Academic Excellence, for example, is intended for students who will attend a New York college, and is based on the results of the Regents exam.

Additionally, many scholarships in New York and elsewhere pay particular attention to applicants pursuing certain high demand fields. The NYS STEM Incentive Program, for example, provides a full SUNY or CUNY tuition scholarship for the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school. Note though, that this scholarship (like many others of its kind) comes with conditions: awarded students must often either remain in the state or work in their particular field, for a certain period of time. In the above example, students must pursue a STEM major and agree to work in a STEM field in New York State for five years after graduation.

Corporate Scholarships

Many of America’s largest and most profitable corporations sponsor high-paying scholarships for high-achieving students. Every year, for example, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 250 achievement-based scholarships for students with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The top 50 are designated as National Scholars and receive $20,000 while the remaining 200 are designated as Regional Scholars and receive awards of $10,000.  Likewise, the Discover Scholarship Program offers an average award of $30,000 to 10 students who demonstrate leadership and community service in the face of adversity, and who have a GPA of at least 2.75. Others have more subjective standards, such as the Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway, which is based on video submissions, and awards $100,000 dollars to students with creativity and unique personal stories.

In additional, there are a large number of merit scholarship opportunities from private non-profits. For example, you’re probably already familiar with the National Merit Scholarship Program, which awards three types of scholarships based on PSAT/NMSQT scores: National Merit, corporate-sponsored, and college-sponsored. Additionally, the  Ayn Rand Institute is a very well-known foundation that sponsors annual essay contests based on a variety of Rand’s books, awarding generous scholarships to those with the strongest essays.

Online resources such as Cappex and Fastweb are a great way to find all these opportunities, whether they’re offered by states, colleges, corporations, or foundations. They boast impressive and up-to-date databases of well-established scholarships in every subject – from engineering to art – as well as listings of some of the more obscure (see, for example, the Victor Bailliet Scholarship in Sugar Technology).  No matter how esoteric or unique your interests, abilities and background may be, these sites are a terrific way to search for and find scholarship sources.

There are thousands of potential merit scholarships for you beyond what we’ve mentioned here. For more guidance and information, contact Collegiate Gateway.  We’re always happy to help.

Surprising News about Affordable Colleges

With the student debt crisis at the forefront of social and political debate – and tuition growing ever higher – students and families are increasingly concerned about the costs of attending college. More and more, pundits and families alike are evaluating colleges based on data regarding graduates’ earnings.  Payscale, for example, ranks institutions based on the  “potential financial return of attending each school given the cost of tuition and the payoff in median lifetime earnings associated with each school.” Similarly, more and more discussion has emerged regarding the profitability of certain majors, and the purpose of higher education generally has been called into question.  For example, the Thiel Fellowships pay students to pursue scientific and technological research and entrepreneurship in lieu of going to college.

Students still interested in going to college, however, should take note of newly released data indicating that the most affordable college options may be, surprising, the Ivy League. According to statistics from U.S. News & World Report, many of the best colleges in the country are relative steals for the lucky few who earn admission. For example, among Princeton University students who graduate with debt, the average is $5,096 total for all four years – the lowest sum for alumni leaving a national university with debt. In fact, on average, students receiving financial aid from the Ivy League paid about a quarter of the sticker price.

Moreover, most graduates leave with smaller (sometimes significantly smaller) debts than peers who attended less selective schools; some of the schools sending graduates out into the world shouldering the greatest debt burdens are campuses that don’t top the rankings and best-of lists, like Sacred Heart, and Delaware State. Among students who took on debt during college, those who graduated from Massachusetts’ Wheelock College, for example, ended up deepest in the red, by an average of about $50,000.

If that seems surprising, consider that the biggest-name universities are also those who receive the greatest amount of funding from successful graduates, with 66 universities possessing endowments topping $1 billion each. They often use these endowments to offset the cost of admissions, providing generous help to lower- and middle-income students.  For example, Harvard University uses its $30 billion endowment to provide 59% of its students with need-based aid, reducing the average cost to $15,486, a 73% discount.

So, the best financial deal for you may be to apply to schools you would not have expected – of course, you need to qualify academically in addition to qualifying for financial aid. Acceptance rates at Ivy League and other top-tier universities hover at around 10 percent or less.