Is The College Merit Aid Financial Aid Friendly?
In this article I want to show you how to analyze a college from a “merit based” financial aid perspective. Remember, my College Money Strategy™ focuses on getting as much free money for college as possible. In order to do this you must match your student’s profile with the right college. As I said in the last article each college has a profile and my basic premise is that the profile you should be looking for are colleges that have deep pockets and have proven to give students lots of money. This is the first step. You must then narrow this selection to colleges where your student’s profile is in the top 25% of incoming freshmen. You will then have a list of colleges where you have the potential to get lots of free money. After you have created this list of colleges you can then filter the list by the criteria your student is looking for in a college.
Federal Merit Aid Financial Aid
So how do you spot a college that has the potential to give you the most in merit based financial aid? The process I am going to tell you to follow is similar to the one I discussed in the last article. You first need to determine if the college is offering Federal merit based financial aid. Most, but not all, colleges do. Take a moment and review what is being offered by the Feds. A great place for that information is on my Federal Student Aid blog. Now I will tell you upfront that there is not much merit based aid being offered by the Federal Gov’t but you should still review all the opportunities. Your situation may be the one where Federal merit based financial aid is being offered and you don’t want to miss out on the free money. If you find that you may qualify for Federal Student Aid then it is extremely important to make sure the colleges you are applying to will offer it.
Is Your State Offering Merit Based Financial Aid?
The next thing to check is if a college will offer what your home state provides in scholarships and grants. Many states are realizing that they must help college bound students who reside in their state because the costs of college, including the costs of instate public universities, are skyrocketing. Not only are states offering need based aid but many also offer merit based financial aid. There are currently 8 states that offer scholarships funded by a state lottery. Many more are offering merit based financial aid through the state’s general fund. Requirements vary but almost always include meeting a minimum GPA and/or ACT-SAT score as well as attending an eligible in state college in order to receive the funds. You must find out what your state is offering. One place to look is on my US map which is currently on the where to find money for college home page. You can click on your state to see a full description on what the state is offering ( I’m currently building this feature and am adding states weekly until it’s completed). If you qualify for scholarships or grants from your state and you plan on applying to an instate college you must make sure that college is an eligible institution and that they will award you what the state is offering.
Is The College Offering Merit Based Financial Aid?
Finally, and most importantly, you must be applying to colleges that provide institutional grants. That is free money from the college itself and is many times merit based financial aid. Let me tell you right now that this is where the big money is. There are many colleges that will open up their pocket books for what they consider to be the “right” student. As I’ve told you many times, this is a student that is within the top 25% of incoming freshman for THAT college. Top 25% is defined academically and is mostly driven by the ACT/SAT but can include GPA and school rank. It will also include intangibles like extracurricular activities as well as how involved a student is in their own education. The beautiful part of this type of aid is that it is awarded at the college’s discretion! That’s huge. They don’t have to follow Federal guidelines to award institutional aid.
Where’s The Info?
So as you put together your list of colleges you must first determine the college’s merit aid profile. How do you determine a college’s merit aid profile and know if it provides institutional scholarships? Like need based financial aid, many colleges list merit based financial aid on their website. If we go back to the Villanova website example and look at their financial aid page. Keep scrolling down and after the need based aid you will see a list of merit based scholarships provided by Villanova. Top of the list is their Presidential Scholarship which is for full tuition, room and board, fees and books. As a side note, notice that there are requirements to submit as well as a deadline. I can’t tell you how many students I see lose easy scholarships because they fail to fulfill the requirements and/or miss a deadline. So if you have a list of colleges then the first place to look is their website.
The other place to look for a college’s merit aid profile is the college search engines. Many search engines will list this key characteristic: Institutional Grants or Scholarships – You want to know the % of incoming freshman receiving this aid and the average amount they received. Let’s take a look at the Belmont example again. College Navigator lists institutional grants and scholarships for Belmont for the 2011-2012 year and tells us that 57% of incoming freshman received this type of aid and that the average award was $9,321. Can you tell by this alone whether a college is merit based aid friendly? Not necessarily but with a cost of attendance for that year of $39,930 it certainly doesn’t seem to be very merit aid friendly.
Let’s take a look at another college. Hendrix College which is a small liberal arts college in Arkansas shows that 100% of incoming freshman are receiving institutional aid and the average award is $23,249. The price tag is a bit higher at $47,904 but if you received the average award at Hendrix versus Belmont you would save $5,594 per year or $23,816 for four years not inflated. That’s not chump change.
These are critical steps if you are wanting to get as much free money as possible and maximize your financial aid. You have to make sure each college you are applying to offers what Federal Student Aid provides as well as what your state provides in scholarships and grants. The big money though will come from scholarships and grants provided by the college directly. Finding those colleges with the deep pockets and who have proven to hand it out generously is where the big dollars really come from.
In the next article in this series we will be digging into the stats for a college. The right stats will tell you a lot about how aid friendly a college will be. What stats should you be looking for? I’ll uncover the secrets behind the stats!