It’s no surprise that paying for college is a top tier financial stressor. A June 2017 Gallup poll finds that, after healthcare costs and making ends meet, “college costs” ties with “low income” as the 3rd and 4th highest financial stressors for families. Sky-high college costs are motivating talented students to seek academic scholarships. The trick is knowing where to look.
Years ago, we shared a helpful New York Times list detailing which colleges award the most merit-based aid. Digging deeper into the listed schools rewards a savvy student with a better idea of how her scores can pay actual dollars in the college marketplace. A look at college websites reveals that colleges vary widely in the way they publicize and award the cash.
Most college websites list merit scholarship opportunities under “financial aid” (am I the only one to find this a bit misleading?), describing various “excellence” and “leadership” scholarships, awarded to top students:
At St. Lawrence, “The University Scholarship is awarded based on academic and extracurricular achievements, as well as character and citizenship. This $100,000 scholarship ($25,000 per year) is awarded for up to four years or eight semesters.” So we’re getting an idea of actual dollars. No word on what grades or scores qualify, but at least we can quantify the kind of real cash the awardee would receive.
Some schools put more numbers out there. For example, in recent years, students receiving merit award from Muhlenberg (Allentown, Pa) typically have ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes, taken a very strong junior and seniors course schedule, earned over 1250 combined on the SAT-I, (1300 on the New SAT or 28 on the ACT) and made outstanding extracurricular contributions to their school or community.
Similarly, Clemson’s website explains, “Domestic out-of-state students with at least a 1340 (EBRW+M) on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT composite and who are ranked in the top 10% of their high school class will be considered for a renewable merit scholarship.”
Ultimately, the serious scholarship hunter even comes across schools who spell it out in no uncertain terms, as in this Utah State graphic:
Here we see one example of a school where a student with a 32 ACT and a 4.0 GPA will receive full a full tuition merit award. In fact, at any level of test score and GPA, a student can plug in his test score and GPA and find his award. Demonstrate a financial need, and the numbers look even better. More and more college websites have a graphic like this or a “merit award finder” (plug your numbers in and out pops your award).
Students may find that the most lucrative scholarships are awarded to less competitive schools, but not always. More top-tier universities than ever are committing to a need blind admissions policy (meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need) for the highest performing students.
To truly capitalize on your commendable test scores, follow these steps:
- Do your research. A visit to the financial aid webpage should follow, or even precede, each college visit.
- Apply to a range of schools. Dream schools, safety schools, public and private. Aid packages can vary by thousands of dollars. And remember that a loan is not aid, any more than a car loan or mortgage would be.
- Practice patience. To find real costs, wait for the full financial aid award packages to arrive in late March or early April, Though you’ll be bumping up against decision deadlines, you’ll have time to make a spreadsheet to compare schools’ aid packages. Then make an informed college decision with eyes open to dollars and common sense!
Finally, consider using the services of a professional college consultant–ask us if you need a recommendation–and engage them early in the process. Experts with many years of experience can save first-time families time and money, turning high test scores into high returns.