50-50 Highlights: 42 Public Colleges for Merit Aid

Piggy bank on calculator representing best public colleges for merit aid(I’ve updated this list. It started with 46 in 2015, 33 at the end of 2016, and now an increase to 42.)
Merit scholarships from colleges aren’t simply a way for schools to reward students for accomplishments, it’s part of the supply and demand of paying for college. Colleges use merit aid as a way to increase the supply of “accomplished” students at their schools. This is why the most competitive colleges in the country such as Princeton and Harvard don’t offer merit scholarships–they have no problem attracting high achieving students to their schools.

Where to find merit aid

In general, merit aid is associated with private schools (See 4 Easy Steps to Find 254 Colleges for Potential Merit Scholarships). Most students that would qualify for merit aid at a private college will find that their state flagship universities aren’t worried about providing incentives to attend them. Like the most selective schools in the country, they aren’t hurting for quality students since they charge so much less for tuition.

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However, there are some public universities where students are more likely to receive merit scholarships than others. Some colleges may do this so that they can raise their academic reputation in the state. Some are trying to keep students from leaving the state and others are trying to convince out-of-state students to come to fill spaces.

Therefore, students who know that they aren’t likely to qualify for need-based aid at their public universities, might consider such schools. The list below shows 42 50-50 schools where at least 50% of freshman received non-need based aid according to data publicly available from the Common Data Set.

Understand the data

You need to be careful using these numbers. According to the definition, the gift aid can come from sources other than just the institution. This includes state sponsored merit programs and out-side scholarships. This is why I included the percentage of students receiving state and local grant aid in the chart.

Yet chances are the schools are contributing significantly to merit aid based on the percentage of freshman receiving institutional aid. These schools tend to have a higher percentage of freshman receiving institutional grants, an average of 70% compared to 48% for all public 50-50 colleges with public Common Data Sets. The higher the percentage of freshman receiving grants, the more likely that students without need are getting some of the money.

There are 27 states that have colleges on the 50-50 Public Colleges for Merit Aid list, up from 21 from last time. South Carolina has the most with four. Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania tied for second. As usual, for 50-50 schools the five-year graduation rate is used for public schools.

50-50 Public Colleges for Merit Aid


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