76 Best Bets for College Merit Aid

Money from faucet representing best bets for merit aidAre you serious about looking for an affordable education at a good college? Don’t think you’ll qualify for any significant financial aid? Then it’s time to begin looking beyond the rankings and paying attention to the data that tells you how much money schools are giving students. In this post, I’ll provide a list of best bets for college merit based scholarships.

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How Schools Made the Best Bets for College Merit Based Scholarships List

I created this list based on data from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) available as of September of this year. IPEDS lists the percentage of freshman who are receiving institutional gift aid and the average amount. If over 90% of freshman are getting institutional aid, it can’t all be need-based. That means that it’s very likely these schools are awarding a significant amount of merit money to students without need.

I started by searching for schools that had an average SAT score for freshman between 1240 and 1340 or the ACT equivalent. These scores rank in the 80s in terms of national percentiles for college bound students. Therefore, these colleges are likely to provide merit awards to students with credentials that will help improve their national standings. Schools with 4-year graduation rates of less than 50% didn’t make this list.

Furthermore, I eliminated colleges where the average net price was over $32,000. Generally, this means the average amount of institutional aid is low or that the total cost of attendance is so high, that the school still remains expensive even after the merit award. Think colleges charging $70,000 a year. I also dropped schools where the average institutional award represented less than 30% of the total cost of attendance.

I made one more adjustment to the list. There are an increasing number of schools that are test optional and don’t report test scores. Therefore, I included the 5 test optional schools that met all of the requirements except for test scores. This gave me a list of 76 colleges likely to provide merit-based scholarships.

What Kind of Schools Made the List

The schools are located in 31 states with Indiana having the most with 7, followed by Pennsylvania with 6 and Massachusetts and Texas tying for third with 5 each. The lowest reported acceptance rate was 38% and the highest was 95%.  Only one school had more than 10,000 full-time undergraduates, with another six having over 4,000 full-time graduates. A total of 13 had less than 1,000 full-time undergraduates.

Given the size ranges, it’s not surprising that 41 of the colleges were Liberal Arts Colleges. Only seven were doctoral research institutions. Furthermore, all the colleges were private with the exception of the University of Vermont. With most states already heavily subsidizing in-state tuition, public universities aren’t as likely to offer merit based scholarships although there are exceptions.

Among those reporting test scores, 30 were still some version of test optional. Students can find Phi Beta Kappa chapters at 15 of the campuses and six of the schools on the list sponsor National Merit Scholarships. And at least 34 of the colleges are free to apply to. Of course, there are no guarantees these colleges will offer you a merit based scholarship–it’s all based on averages after all. But with 76 possibilities, surely one or two will meet your basic requirements and will be worth a try. (The following list is based on information available in the DIY College Rankings Search Spreadsheet.)

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76 Best Bet Colleges for Merit Base Scholarships

Listing of colleges most likely to provide merit based scholarship including acceptance rates, size, and average net price. #CollegeAdmissions
  1. […] Among all colleges, there are 51 that had an average institution grant of $30,000 or greater for freshman and 27 offer no merit aid. Of the remaining 24 schools, only four provided merit aid to 10% or more of students without any financial need and one of those is the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. If you’re trying to find merit scholarships, you need to look elsewhere. […]

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