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Merit Aid: What Is It, And How To Apply Strategically To Get It

It can be tricky to determine how much merit aid your student may be eligible for at a particular institution. In general, the kinds of merit aid available are published on a college’s website in an area called scholarships. As noted, merit aid tends not to be included in net price calculator results. And just because a school offers merit aid does not mean your student will get it.  In fact, the merit aid numbers on sites like College Board can be misleading: remember those averages are only for students who receive merit aid, which may be a minority of students at the institution.

Merit Aid

Who gets merit aid? The students who are on the top of the college’s enrollment wish list. “Those merit awards are to reward students, but they’re also to attract students to a particular college,” explains Cecilia Castellano, head of enrollment management at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“For example, I recently worked with a student who was applying to Yale, University of Michigan, and Bowling Green. She was one of our top scholars. And she received the top award at Bowling Green.”

The student enrolled at BGSU this past fall. “I can’t speak for her, but in our conversations it sounded like Bowling Green was a better fit and we offered more merit aid,” says Castellano.

In other words, students who are stand-out applicants at a college are much more likely to get merit aid than applicants who just barely meet a college’s admissions criteria.

You don’t need to be a straight-A student to get merit aid; rather, your student must apply to colleges where his grades and scores put him in the upper tier of applicants. The best bet: apply to schools where your student is in the top 25 percent of applicants (in terms of grades and scores).

Also make sure you research any additional requirements for consideration for merit aid. While many colleges automatically consider all applicants for these awards, some require interviews or additional essays. Some also have earlier deadlines for applicants desiring merit aid.