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50-50 Highlights: 54 Public Colleges for Merit Aid

Piggy bank on calculator representing best public colleges for merit aid(The following has been updated for 2019.) 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.

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Where to find merit scholarships

In general, merit scholarships or 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.

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 54 50-50 schools where at least 40% 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. The main reason is that they can be very wrong. For example, the University of Kentucky reported 4,758 freshman on its 2017-18 CDS form. It also listed that 5,107 freshman without financial need were awarded institutional non-need scholarships or grants. The University of Utah has a similar error. According to its publicly posted CDS, they had 1,934 freshman without need (Freshman minus the number who had need) but they had awarded non-need aid to 2,164 freshman without need.

These are obviously data errors of some sort and I sincerely don’t want this to be used as an excuse for colleges not to post their CDS information. But the fact is that families need to be careful in using this and any information from these reports. As far as I know, colleges aren’t paid for the time it takes to compile the data and it isn’t used to meet any regulatory requirements. Since it’s being used by publishers to make money, my guess is that the colleges’ primary motivation is publicity. But if you think about it, none of this lends itself to strict data quality standards.

And yet here I go offering the data available because who doesn’t want to know which public universities offer the most merit scholarships? I just hope Utah and Kentucky figure out their data errors soon and I very much appreciate them posting their Common Data Sets.

Ultimately, chances are the schools on the list below 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 54% for all public 50-50 colleges. The higher the percentage of freshman receiving grants, the more likely that students without need are getting some of the money.

There are 34 states that have colleges on the 50-50 Public Colleges for Merit Aid list, up from 27 from last time. This could just be from an increase in the number of universities posting their Common Data Sets. South Carolina and Pennsylvania have the most with four each. Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio tied for second with three each.

The table below lists 50-50 public universities where at least 40% of freshman without need received merit aid. 50-50 schools accept at least 50% of students and have at least a 50% graduation rate. As usual, for 50-50 schools the five-year graduation rate is used for public schools. All of this information is part of the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.


50-50 Public Universities for Merit Aid

Name State   Full-time Under-grads  4/5 yr Grad Rate % Fresh w/out need Receiving Merit Aid  % Freshman Receiving
Institutional Grants (16-17) 
Auburn University AL       21,762 73 48 62
Northern Arizona University AZ       21,990 53 69 83
University of Arizona AZ       29,325 60 66 83
University of Colorado Boulder CO       26,977 66 57 49
Eastern Connecticut State University CT         4,210 52 50 72
University of Delaware DE       18,195 82 51 65
University of Hawaii at Manoa HI       10,702 53 63 63
University of Idaho ID         7,166 50 83 88
Ball State University IN       15,203 59 53 51
Indiana University-Bloomington IN       32,212 75 46 58
Iowa State University IA       28,743 70 78 76
University of Iowa IA       21,222 71 41 76
University of Northern Iowa IA         9,100 64 53 63
University of Kansas KS       17,151 60 56 67
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College LA       22,060 59 49 55
University of Maine ME         8,204 55 98 99
St Mary’s College of Maryland MD         1,516 77 62 80
University of Maryland-Baltimore County MD         9,543 58 47 44
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts MA         1,201 52 65 82
University of Massachusetts-Amherst MA       21,577 76 63 80
University of Massachusetts-Lowell MA       10,495 56 59 76
Central Michigan University MI       15,585 52 74 86
Grand Valley State University MI       19,373 60 47 68
Michigan Technological University MI         5,492 60 83 92
University of Minnesota-Duluth MN         8,906 56 42 69
Mississippi State University MS       16,803 54 97 83
University of Mississippi MS       17,511 56 64 71
Missouri State University-Springfield MO       15,363 51 46 59
University of Nebraska at Kearney NE         4,063 54 47 64
Keene State College NH         3,624 61 79 93
Plymouth State University NH         3,971 53 65 98
University of New Hampshire-Main Campus NH       12,677 76 53 71
New Jersey Institute of Technology NJ         6,380 56 64 62
SUNY College at Potsdam NY         3,196 50 59 86
Kent State University at Kent OH       19,108 52 57 79
Miami University-Oxford OH       16,619 78 48 67
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus OH       22,622 63 41 54
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus OK       18,221 58 62 73
Oregon State University OR       18,829 59 59 68
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania PA         7,053 50 42 53
Mansfield University of Pennsylvania PA         1,655 53 42 78
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania PA         7,125 64 42 51
Temple University PA       26,643 67 60 82
Citadel Military College of South Carolina SC         2,559 71 65 41
College of Charleston SC         9,083 67 59 37
University of South Carolina-Columbia SC       25,243 72 60 62
Winthrop University SC         4,488 54 58 55
University of South Dakota SD         4,908 54 60 67
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville TN       20,965 67 47 48
The University of Texas at Dallas TX       15,294 66 44 61
University of Vermont VT       10,395 73 84 92
University of Mary Washington VA         3,905 68 73 79
Washington State University WA       22,166 58 73 76
University of Wyoming WY         8,281 51 51 67
50-50 Highlights: 54 Public Colleges for Merit Aid

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