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The Building Blocks of Merit Awards

Updated: Oct 1, 2020


This is the time of year that many high school seniors are deciding which college will be their home for the next four years.  Many of those decisions rest, in part, on the amount and type of merit/scholarships the student was awarded.  As college costs continue to rise, merit aid has become a priority consideration when selecting a college for most of our clients. Like your application for admission, merit aid is determined using some of the same factors.  We like to use the analogy of building a block tower.  Your GPA and the rigor of your courses along with your scores are stacked at the base of the tower while a strong essay, recommendations and interview help to grow the tower in height.  Also, your extracurricular activities including community service, work experience and any special talents you might have can extend your tower higher than your competition in the applicant pool.  Lastly for those schools that consider demonstrated interest, your expressed interest in the university will be considered and added to your personal block tower.  These are the building blocks of your application package and you have control over how high these blocks can be stacked. 


So let's consider the following example.  Jan, Marcia and Bobby have all applied to the same mid-size liberal arts college on the east coast and for these candidates let's assume no geographic, racial or ethnic differences that may impact admissions or merit potential.  



As shown in the graph above, the factors that impact merit potential are not all that different than those considered for admission (see our Building Blocks of Admissions) However, your grades, rigor and test scores need to place you in the top group of all applicants to be considered for the largest merit awards.  Also, some schools are going to give larger awards to the applicant's who have expressed a strong interest in their school.  Colleges use merit awards to attract top candidate's but they also like to leverage their available merit monies for students who may actually attend the university.  Jan's achieved good grades while taking a rigorous course load and has strong standardized test scores.  She has demonstrated a long term commitment to her activities and community service.  Therefore, Jan will not only be a strong candidate for admission but she will be considered for the top merit awards.  Likewise, Marsha has strong grades but less rigor than Jan and lower test scores.  However, she has visited the campus, interviewed with an alum, met with her admissions counselor and maintained contact with the school.  In this example, Marsha will be considered for some merit awards unlike Bobby whose grades and scores place him in the lower quarter of all applicant's.  He has a minimal amount of activities and awards and he did not visit the campus or express interest in the college.  These factors will negatively impact his merit potential at this university.


The Essential College Coaches are very proud of our students success this year with an average merit award of $100,000/4 years with most receiving multiple competitive offers. If you would like to explore your child's potential for merit aid or discuss our college services give us a call.  

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