Tag Archives: merit scholarships

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.

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 FinAid.org, 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.