If we picked a most often asked question, it might be this: “Do all colleges offer merit scholarships?” The answer in a word…no. (I guess we could leave it here, but let’s dig deeper.) 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. The University of Alabama is a good example of a college that is generous with their merit scholarships. Some 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 is like that. 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 Harvard will NOT give them any merit scholarship money.
The list of colleges NOT offering merit scholarships include many of the most well-known in the United States.
The list is an ever changing target, but here is a sample list complied by Dr. Barbara Austin, PhD:
Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, etc. will not award scholarships for good grades or test scores. Your client’s student needs those things to be admitted, but they won’t get money for them.
If you were to ask them why, they’d 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 and GPA numbers. 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 the list of colleges and universities that meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need, you’ll see overlap with the list above. Instead of awarding merit, they choose to spend their endowments to encourage those who have financial challenges to come to their school.
What is the game plan?
Families need to understand where and how to shop for a college. If money is part of the conversation (and not too many families can afford to simply write a check for $100,000 to $300,000!), then they need to examine their personal situation. If your client’s have financial need and academic talent, perhaps one of the schools listed above will be the best deal. If they have no financial need but have academic talent, they need to look elsewhere for that financial fit.
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 CollegeData.com 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.