How Merit Based Scholarships REALLY Work

Today’s post is by guest blogger Carol Barash, PhD, the founder and CEO of Story To College. A global education company that teaches courses in schools and online, Story To College has empowered over 5,600 students to complete successful college application essays and get admitted to their top choice colleges.

There are two types of financial aid. Need-based financial aid is calculated on the student’s and their family’s income. Merit aid is based on a variety of other criteria—including exceptional talent in academics or the arts, or a strong fit with a college’s core programs. Most merit scholarships come from the college itself, not the federal government, and they are always in the form of grants (not loans).

Although the premise of merit aid is simple, it remains a mysterious part of the financial aid process. Here are a few things to remember about merit aid:

• In many cases, submitting a complete application immediately puts you in consideration for merit aid, but make sure you check off any box that asks if you want to be considered for merit aid. Some schools also require a FAFSA form or CSS profile, so double check what forms you need with each school’s financial aid office, and follow each school’s specific directions.

• The evaluation process for merit aid is holistic, like the admissions process itself. Admissions officers consider your transcript and tests scores, the rigor of your classes, your extracurricular activities, and your essays. Remember that the same admissions officers who determine if you are accepted often determine if you receive merit aid and if so, how much.

Do not underestimate the role of the essay in the merit aid process! University of Rochester admissions officer Taylor Socash says, “If I have a sense of who this person is, and how the programs we offer will make a difference in their life, I find myself nudging up the amount of aid we offer them.”

• Research each college you are applying to – use your “Why College X” essay to match a college’s programs to your own interests and experiences. For example, a student who wants to study in George Washington’s Public Health program might tell a story about their experience developing an innovative diet and exercise regime for their gym class.

There are many merit scholarships for athletes and artists. For more information, sign up for information on Zinch and talk to your guidance counselor or colleges’ financial aid offices.

Some Ivy league and highly selective liberal arts schools do not offer merit aid, so be sure to check with their respective financial aid offices beforehand.

• You can always supplement your school’s merit aid with scholarships from outside sources. Zinch is great for that too!

Do your research! This NY Times article is a fantastic resource. You can see which schools offer merit aid, what percentage of students receive merit aid, and the average award.

TIP FOR COLLEGE-BOUND STUDENTS: As you begin to plan your college list, look for colleges where you are a strong fit academically and temperamentally, and you are much more likely to receive merit aid from those colleges.

Not sure which colleges are right for you? Sign up for Story To College’s free webinar on Tuesday, March 19th at 7:30 pm EST! Carol Barash, PhD, will be teaching you how to create a balanced college list. Register here.

written by
Guest Blogger
March 6, 2013

3 Responses to “How Merit Based Scholarships REALLY Work”

  1. These are great tips! Merit aid varies widely from school to school, so doing some research into which schools give more merit aid is another way to possibly get more money for school.

  2. Tamara Krause
    March 13, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    Another thing to ask the college is if the merit-aid is guaranteed. Some colleges provide scholarships to all students who meet certain eligibility requirements, while others offer awards on a competitive basis, instead. Also, there are private scholarships available that are neither need-based or merit-based, so students who don’t fall neatly into either category should understand there are still funding opportunities available to them.

  3. Haley
    May 12, 2013 at 1:46 am #

    Might I also note that if you’ve received your aid notification already, but discover you have a significant change that might increase your merit award (drastic GPA increase, ACT increase, etc) don’t be afraid to ask! It will say “all decisions are final” and such on the front, but there’s a chance that there wasn’t as much anticipated aid given out as expected and they will reconsider. Right now mine is being reconsidered, because I went from having a 26 on the ACT to having a 30. They said upfront that any request submitted after February would not be considered, but due to the circumstances they were willing to make an exception and reconsider. All in all, the worst they can say is no, so it doesn’t hurt to ask :D

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