As college admissions have become more competitive and the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket, schools are offering more and more merit scholarships to entice top-tier students to attend and increase affordability. Applicants now have access to a wider range of non need-based scholarships, based on talent in academics and other areas. Each college has its own method of awarding funds, so it is important to research the merit aid process at each school on your college list.
Some colleges, such as Tulane, automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. However, other schools, including Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University, require applicants to complete a separate merit scholarship application and/or essay. Some institutions have an early cut-off date—such as November 15th in the case of Emory—by which students in contention for merit aid must apply. Finally, there are also colleges like the University of Rochester that offer further merit scholarships to returning students, in addition to any money they were promised as incoming freshmen.
Factors that Determine Merit Aid
Schools determine which candidates will receive merit awards by weighing a variety of factors including grade point average, standardized test scores, and the strength of the student’s high school curriculum. Generally, the better you do in high school, the better your chances of being offered merit aid by colleges. For many students, this is can be the largest source of scholarship funding. In fact, some colleges, including Boston College and Duke award full-tuition merit scholarships to small groups of exceptionally qualified students.
Keep in mind that additional factors related to your character play a role as well, as demonstrated by your extracurricular activities, community service and leadership roles. Furthermore, the unique institutional priorities of each college influence the nature of their merit scholarships. Colleges often offer special scholarships for students of diverse backgrounds, or with particular academic, athletic, service or career interests.
Some colleges, such as Tulane, Oberlin, and NYU automatically consider all applicants for merit scholarships. Schools such as Lehigh and USC also offer a wide array of merit scholarship opportunities. Most colleges will consider students for merit aid just based on the application for admission, but some require that students complete the FAFSA or to click “yes” on the Common Application to being considered for merit scholarships at that particular school.
Some schools require that prospective students take the initiative to apply for merit aid and require the submission of additional essays. The Premier Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis requires a separate application and participation in an all-expenses-paid weekend program for scholarship finalists during March.
At Vanderbilt University, once a student applies for admission, they are emailed within two days to set up their MyAppVU account, which has a scholarship section to be completed by December 1st in order to be considered for all merit scholarships at Vanderbilt.
Schools that Award High Percentages of Merit Aid
The following chart lists a selection of schools that awarded the most merit aid to students who “had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid” for the 2017-2018 academic year, according to U.S. News & World Report.
|School||% of Students Receiving Non-Need Based Aid|
|Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering||53%|
|University of Denver||40%|
|University of Portland||39%|
|The New School||38%|
|Case Western Reserve University||33%|
|St. Michael’s College||33%|
|Hobart and William Smith Colleges||32%|
|University of Vermont||31%|
Benefits Associated with Merit Scholarships
When evaluating different options, keep in mind that merit scholarships can offer more than just monetary rewards. Many, such as UVA’s Jefferson Scholars offer significant enrichment opportunities, such as access to leadership and study abroad programs, and internships with program alumni.
Another example is the Bonner Scholars Program at the University of Richmond, which is tied to a deep commitment to community service. Scholarship recipients intern for 10 hours a week for four years at an organization that aligns with their service goals. Bonner Scholars also participate in on-campus reflective exercises and educational programming.
The Emory Scholars Program offers unique programming, a strong community, early class registration, as well as other benefits.
College is expensive, and there are many paths to finding your “best-fit” as well as maximizing the best deal. For more guidance and information on college-sponsored merit scholarships, contact Collegiate Gateway—we’re always happy to help.