Colleges award merit scholarships based on many factors. Some award scholarships based on academic merit, extracurricular talent and other factors such as intended major. Some discount tuition (i.e. award institutional scholarships) in mysterious ways – often based on complex algorithms – in order to increase the number of students who enroll.
Unfortunately, at most schools it is not a simple task for students to determine if they will qualify for a merit scholarship and if so, how much? That said, there are some steps you can take to gain a better understanding of how much merit aid is awarded.
Step 1 – Read the School Web Site
It is always a good idea to see what each college says about merit scholarships on the school financial aid website.
Step 2 – Research the Percentage of Freshman Who Receive Merit Awards.
This is most easily done using the search engine at collegedata.com, a site that organizes the data that many colleges report each year on their school Common Data Set (CDS). About 75% of colleges make their CDS data publicly available.
You will notice that some very selective colleges, such as the Ivy league schools, award no merit aid at all. many very selective colleges award merit aid to a high percentage of students. For instance, Vanderbilt reported awarding merit aid to 39% of entering freshman in a recent class. Many less selective (but high quality) private schools award merit aid to an even higher percentage of students.
Merit aid is not limited to private colleges. Most public colleges and universities award merit aid as well. Percentages vary from state to state and you will see that many public schools award merit aid to a high percentage of students. Unfortunately, there is no breakdown of how awarding policies differ for in state and out of state students.
Step 3 – Complete the School Net Price Calculator
After you identify target schools that award merit aid, the next step is to determine if they provide any information that helps you estimate how much merit scholarship YOU might receive.
Start this process by using the school Net Price Calculator (NPC). In the best case scenario, the school has a clearly defined merit scholarship policy based on clear academic metrics such as GPA and/or standardized test scores. For this type of school, the NPC will ask for academic information in addition to financial information and provide an actual estimate of your merit award. A good example is the University of Alabama NPC, a school that reports awarding merit scholarships to 51% of freshman in a recent entering class. Alabama a very straightforward about how the award merit scholarships and their criteria is reflected in their NPC tool.
On the other hand, Vanderbilt’s NPC offers no clues about student eligibility for merit aid deposit the fact that they report a high percentage of students receiving merit scholarships. In fact, the fine print and disclaimers at the beginning of Vanderbilt’s NPC clearly state that it provides estimates of need-based aid only.