50-50 Highlights: Best Colleges for Merit Scholarships

Hand with key to unlock best colleges for merit scholarshipsStudents with high Expected Family Contributions (EFC) who want to pay less for college need to find those colleges most likely to provide generous merit aid. One way to do this is to identify colleges that have a high percentage of freshman without need who receive merit aid. The higher the percentage, the more likely students are to qualify for merit aid.

This information is collected through the Common Data Set (CDS) which is used by publishers such as US News Best College Rankings and the College Board. About half of all colleges post their CDS surveys online for public viewing. Among the over 400 50-50 Colleges, 66% actually post the percentage of non-need freshman receiving merit aid.

Of those colleges that post the data, 75 reported that 25% or more of freshman without need received merit aid. There are 50-50 schools are in 33 states, with Ohio (7), Texas (6), and Indiana (6), having the most.

The 75 colleges consist of 51 private schools and 24 public institutions. The private colleges had an average merit award of $15,166 while the average for public colleges was $7,180. In both cases, this represents a little less than 30% of the total cost of attendance for in-state students.

However, you need to remember that these are averages. There are colleges with a high percentage of freshman receiving merit aid but the average award is well below the average. Five private colleges have an average merit award of less than $10,000. The University of Puget Sound, which has the highest percentage of freshman without need receiving merit aid for private colleges,  has an average merit award of only $13,755. Given its total price is over $57,000, the average wouldn’t bring the total price to even below $40,000.

When you’re looking at the percentage of freshman who receive merit aid, you need to also consider the average award and the total price. Both Calvin College and Loyola Marymount have average awards of about $13,000. Yet, the $13,000 is going to do a lot more to reduce costs at Calvin College which has a total price of $42,620 compared to Loyola Marymount’s $58,851.

The following tables shows 50-50 colleges where at least 25% of freshman without need received merit aid based on data available from the their websites. There may be more but not all schools post their data. As usual, the 4-year graduation rate is used for private schools and the 5-year rate for public. You can see other ways of target colleges for merit money by searching my website for “merit aid.

Best 50-50 Colleges for Merit Scholarships
(25% or more of non-need freshman receive merit awards)


The private colleges had an average merit award of $15,166 while the average for public colleges was $7,180. In both cases, this represents a little less than 30% of the total cost of attendance for in-state students.
  1. […] Let’s assume that we won’t get any need-based financial aid, and look only at merit aid. (We are not destitute by any means. But 3/4 of a million dollars is still a lot of money to us!) For a good article on trying to predict your chances of merit aid, read How to Find Merit Scholarships: Follow the Money. (And if you want to find colleges that increase your chances of getting merit aid, here is a great resource 50-50 Highlights: Best Colleges for Merit Scholarships.) […]

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