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Merit Aid – Is your Student Eligible for Academic Merit Aid?

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Unfortunately even if your child is a top student, it doesn’t guarantee academic merit aid at all colleges, especially the elite ones. The majority of state universities and the most selective colleges like the Ivy League schools and non-Ivy elites like Northwestern and Stanford do not offer academic merit aid.

The good news is that many smaller, less-known, but not lesser quality colleges offer academic merit aid of considerable value, ranging between $10,000 and $25,000 per year. This is how these colleges keep students enrolled and remain competitive.

Net Price Calculator

Colleges are required to provide a net price calculator (NPC) on their websites, so a student can determine if she is eligible for academic merit aid by just typing in GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Remember, even if the NPC does show that a student is eligible for academic merit aid, it does not mean she will automatically receive it.

Merit Awards are Competitive

A student must be eligible to compete for merit, and often there are merit awards that are for specific majors, usually limited to a number of students, and have wider criteria than just GPA and test scores. And a school that offers no academic merit aid may still have scholarships available in specific majors, so be sure to investigate all possibilities at your preferred schools.

It is difficult to calculate ahead of time which colleges will give your child merit money. Often they must apply and go through the admissions process to get a determination. Some colleges will try to give you an idea of your overall aid eligibility, but you won’t really know until you complete both the application and financial aid forms.

Some Inside Information

You may be surprised to learn that many merit awards are determined by the admissions, not the financial aid office. The admissions department will notify a student if they are eligible for a merit award when they submit their application for admission. For those of you who have kids taking AP courses and have a GPA that is considered “weighted” to reflect these advanced courses, you need to ask the colleges if they recalculate GPA for academic merit aid purposes.

Since a lot of merit aid awards are based on GPA, and typically the criteria is 3.75 or higher, a student with the 3.6 in all AP classes may worry that she will not get merit aid. Not true, most colleges recalculate GPA based on academic rigor, and the student who challenged herself will be a candidate for merit aid.

Honors Colleges at State Universities

Some state universities have created Honors Colleges to offer academic merit aid. Only highly selective students are offered placement, and receive a significant reduction on the total college cost, even if they are not state residents and would otherwise have to pay out-of-state tuition. This is how the big state universities compete for highly qualified students.

The other type of financial aid is need-based aid, which is determined based on the family’s financial aid information submitted on the FAFSA and CSS Profile. The Essential College Coach’s newsletters and blogs contain extensive information about all aspects of financial aid.

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