76 Best Bets for College Merit Aid
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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.

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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

Name Type State Full-time Under-grads 4 yr Grad Rate % Admitted % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (16-17) Avg Net Price After Gift Aid (2016-2017)
Birmingham Southern College Private AL 1,270 58 62 26 $23,846
Samford University Private AL 3,272 65 83 13 $30,017
Hendrix College Private AR 1,226 67 80 31 $22,089
John Brown University Private AR 1,499 62 76 29 $22,338
Mills College Private CA 738 63 87 47 $26,086
Florida Southern College Private FL 2,354 57 51 27 $24,888
Stetson University Private FL 3,034 55 68 32 $27,287
Agnes Scott College Private GA 912 65 66 37 $22,121
Berry College Private GA 1,938 57 62 20 $26,173
Covenant College Private GA 979 59 95 22 $23,353
Augustana College Private IL 2,647 70 59 24 $23,919
Illinois Wesleyan University Private IL 1,649 71 61 22 $30,147
Knox College Private IL 1,329 72 72 29 $25,136
Lake Forest College Private IL 1,493 66 53 31 $25,646
DePauw University Private IN 2,136 76 67 21 $29,318
Earlham College Private IN 1,049 58 52 28 $20,721
Saint Mary’s College Private IN 1,485 73 78 23 $26,664
Taylor University Private IN 1,836 71 87 20 $25,734
University of Evansville Private IN 2,014 62 70 29 $21,046
Valparaiso University Private IN 3,160 62 84 31 $23,099
Wabash College Private IN 864 72 63 25 $24,603
Cornell College Private IA 999 64 65 29 $27,009
Drake University Private IA 2,943 70 69 17 $28,277
Luther College Private IA 2,012 71 65 19 $26,013
Centre College Private KY 1,450 80 76 17 $26,249
Transylvania University Private KY 966 69 95 26 $26,454
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine Private ME 966 52 80 30 $25,694
Goucher College Private MD 1,446 56 79 30 $29,716
Washington College Private MD 1,454 73 48 23 $31,636
Assumption College Private MA 1,938 68 79 18 $29,024
Emmanuel College Private MA 1,811 58 73 29 $31,448
Gordon College Private MA 1,527 61 89 22 $30,888
Simmons College Private MA 1,548 67 60 28 $29,690
Springfield College Private MA 2,182 68 70 28 $28,453
Calvin College Private MI 3,521 59 83 20 $26,306
Hope College Private MI 3,024 67 74 21 $27,795
Kalamazoo College Private MI 1,422 82 73 23 $28,057
Gustavus Adolphus College Private MN 2,159 77 68 27 $29,894
St Olaf College Private MN 3,005 85 43 17 $27,587
Saint Louis University Private MO 6,640 68 64 18 $31,718
William Jewell College Private MO 909 54 48 27 $20,916
Creighton University Private NE 4,000 69 72 14 $31,481
Colby-Sawyer College Private NH 923 49 87 29 $27,130
Saint Anselm College Private NH 1,925 78 76 16 $31,492
Drew University Private NJ 1,506 59 63 33 $28,876
Seton Hall University Private NJ 5,551 56 73 28 $28,700
Clarkson University Private NY 3,028 56 66 22 $31,050
Houghton College Private NY 968 67 91 43 $19,437
Wagner College Private NY 1,740 63 70 26 $30,119
Salem College Private NC 676 56 57 53 $18,218
Cedarville University Private OH 3,111 60 71 22 $23,520
The College of Wooster Private OH 1,960 72 56 17 $28,928
Oklahoma City University Private OK 1,577 50 72 21 $27,234
University of Tulsa Private OK 3,209 50 39 18 $25,086
Allegheny College Private PA 1,748 69 68 37 $25,415
Duquesne University Private PA 5,823 68 72 20 $30,540
Juniata College Private PA 1,396 80 71 29 $26,152
Messiah College Private PA 2,649 76 77 19 $27,821
Ursinus College Private PA 1,492 75 78 20 $31,812
Washington & Jefferson College Private PA 1,405 67 48 27 $28,627
Johnson & Wales University-Providence Private RI 7,247 51 88 45 $27,165
Augustana University Private SD 1,679 55 68 21 $18,937
Rhodes College Private TN 1,988 79 51 15 $29,144
Union University Private TN 1,592 62 60 27 $25,162
Austin College Private TX 1,202 62 52 37 $21,893
Southwestern University Private TX 1,368 67 43 23 $27,008
Trinity University Private TX 2,347 72 38 17 $28,540
University of Dallas Private TX 1,421 65 47 24 $26,657
University of St Thomas Private TX 5,951 67 84 17 $31,470
Saint Michael’s College Private VT 1,774 71 85 16 $31,997
University of Vermont Public VT 10,432 62 67 15 $19,815
Hollins University Private VA 632 58 48 41 $19,520
Whitworth University Private WA 2,206 65 89 26 $29,281
Beloit College Private WI 1,346 75 54 25 $26,976
Lawrence University Private WI 1,438 65 61 24 $28,180
Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design Private WI 647 49 60 51 $24,850
76 Best Bets for College Merit Aid