What Exactly is Merit Aid, and are you Eligible?
You may have heard of merit aid, or merit scholarships. Maybe you heard that it helps pay for college, but do you know how it works or how to get it? Here is what you need to know about merit aid as your student prepares for college applications.
Colleges grant merit aid scholarships to students based on their academic or other achievements. It could be an impressive GPA, athletic skills, an artistic portfolio or any recognition of their unique abilities.
Academic scholarships are the most common form the aid is awarded as. They take into account your child’s grades, standardized test scores like the SAT and ACT, and class rank to award your student money.
The best part about merit aid is that it’s not awarded based on financial need, so you don’t have to worry about family income or assets.
Some colleges ONLY award need-based aid. College selection is the most important factor for families hoping to reduce their cost of college with merit aid. The colleges you choose must be ones that offer merit aid!
Standardized Test Scores can be Important
Higher standardized testing scores absolutely increase the amount of merit aid a student is offered. In fact, some schools even give out guaranteed scholarships to students whose scores meet a minimum threshold.
Colleges need to have a quantitative method to score one student against another in order to determine the amount. Standardized test results are a common scoring method. Arizona State University even has a merit aid calculator right on their website.
If your student is targeting merit-based aid to help fund college, it is worth their time and energy (and money, most likely) to prepare them. That way, they can get the highest score possible.
It is becoming more and more common that colleges do not take in account standardized test scores when applying. Yet, that does not mean they do not take scores into consideration when applying for merit scholarships. This is why standardized testing still can be a valuable tool when it comes to merit aid.
Do I Need to Apply for Merit Aid?
Every college has different financial aid rules and processes. However, merit aid isn’t always automatically applied, which may come as a surprise to some.
Some colleges consider merit scholarships for all applications without additional requirements. Some colleges, like USC, only offer merit aid to applicants who apply before a certain date.
Other colleges, like NYU and RISD, require both the FAFSA and CSS Profile be submitted to be considered for all forms of financial aid. A few of their scholarships may blend need-based and merit aid requirements.
Additional merit scholarships are sometimes available for students willing to submit separate merit scholarships applications, such as the Barnes Scholarship at Colorado College or Johnston Scholars at the University of North Carolina. 14 scholarships through the University of Michigan require individual applications.
Merit Aid is not Offered by Every College
Yes, it’s true. It varies school by school, but several colleges only offer need-based aid. Tufts University, for instance, offers no merit aid or academic scholarships.
Be sure to check each college’s financial aid website to make sure your student is applying to colleges that offer awards based on YOUR financial situation. A portion of students will be awarded more financial aid for colleges granting need-based aid and the rest should be targeting colleges offering merit aid.
If your student’s SAT scores are high (compared to the college’s average), they get good marks in class, or they’re recognized for athletic achievements, merit scholarships can lessen the burden of college-related debt for those colleges awarding merit aid.To get a jump-start on your college financial plan, schedule a free consultation with Beatrice Schultz, CFP®.
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