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KBR Retirement & Investment Solutions

Colleges That Don’t Offer Merit Scholarships

Updated October 2021.

If we compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions we hear from our clients, one of the top among them would be:

Do all colleges offer merit scholarships?

The answer, in a word, is no.

Let’s dig deeper into what type of scholarship awards different schools offer, and how you can find the best pick for your student (and your budget).

What are merit scholarships?

Merit scholarships are awarded to students who have above-average academics. In an effort to enroll the best and the brightest, many colleges offer money to these students. Merit scholarships are typically not influenced by a student’s financial need.

Some colleges offer some form of non-need-based aid to high percentages of their enrolled students. For example, in the 2020-2021 academic year, Loyola Marymount University offered merit scholarships to 53% of their enrolled students.

Other colleges offer money to every student who meets their criteria, commonly referred to as automatic or grid scholarships. The majority of colleges, however, award money on a competitive basis.

Most families assume that every college grants significant merit-based scholarships or financial aid. They assume that their academically talented child will get money from whatever school they choose, and they are shocked to find out that is not true. A student can have a perfect ACT score and a 4.0 GPA, and many big schools, like Harvard or even some “brand name” state schools, won’t give them any merit scholarship money.

The truth is: most of the most well-known colleges and universities in the United States don’t offer merit scholarships. 

What schools don’t offer merit scholarships?

The list is an ever-changing target, but you can usually audit your student’s list of dream schools by taking a quick look at an individual school’s financial aid page. Here’s a sample quote from Princeton to show you what to look for: 

“Princeton financial aid is awarded solely based on need; there are no merit scholarships.”

Not all schools will be quite as cut and dry, but they should list how aid is offered or determined.

Why is merit aid not offered universally?

If you were to ask some of the big brand name schools why they don’t offer merit scholarships, they’d likely tell you that it would be too hard to differentiate between the many talented students that apply to their school.

They all have great test scores, GPA numbers, and a laundry list of stellar extracurriculars that set them apart.

How can you pick out the best among a crowd of “bests”?!

Most of these colleges award need-based aid instead.

If you check out this list of colleges and universities that meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need, you’ll see, with a little bit of research, that many of them don’t offer merit scholarships. Instead of awarding merit, they choose to spend their endowments to encourage those who have financial challenges to come to their school.

What should your family’s strategy be?

Families need to understand where and how to shop for a college. If money is part of the conversation, which it should be (not too many families can afford to write a check to pay for school in full), then they need to examine their personal situation.

If your student has financial need and academic talent, perhaps one of the schools that often cover all of a family’s financial needs is the best fit. If your student has no financial need, but has academic talent, they need to look elsewhere for a school that fits their family’s budget.

Understand where your student falls.

Colleges that award merit aid give to those student who are above average. Above average varies by the institution. Often above average means in the top 25% of the admitted class. Families can use to look up that middle 50% ACT range for a guideline of where their student may fall as compared to the rest of those admitted.

Compare schools on an apples-to-apples basis.

The truth is that schools don’t make it easy to understand what, exactly, they’ll cost or what type of aid your student qualifie. You can quickly compare your student’s top schools, determine the sticker price of each, and get an idea of what type of financial aid you can expect given your student’s academic criteria.

Have additional questions?

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