There are over 1,600 four-year colleges in the United States. How do you begin to choose the good colleges you should apply to? To a certain extent, the definition of “good” will vary from student to student. However, there are seven things a college should have for it to be a good college for a student to consider.
The best bets for college merit scholarships aren’t necessarily schools you have heard of. But if you’re serious about looking for an affordable education at a good college, does it matter? Don’t think you’ll qualify for any significant need-based 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.
(For those looking for colleges with the most merit scholarships, I’m updating this post. Because I’ve updated the spreadsheet several times since I wrote this post, some of the numbers in the text won’t match the results in the graphics. You can see a video demonstration at the end of the post.)
If you’re looking for colleges that provide the most merit scholarships, start with the information the schools report to the Department of Education. This information states how much money institutions distribute in grants and scholarships and the number of students who receive it. In just four easy steps you can use this data to find colleges most likely to provide generous merit scholarships. These are schools that students with high Expected Family Contributions (EFC) should target for non-need based aid. This is in no way a guarantee. Rather, consider this a way to improve your chances for merit scholarships given the available information. The idea is to use this list as a basis to create the final list of colleges to apply to.
With all the pressure on high school students to create a perfect college list, they really aren’t given the opportunity to develop the skills to do so. It’s the sort of situation that most students will do only once. How often can you “practice” deciding which colleges to apply to? It’s not the same as practicing taking the ACT or SAT. How do you learn to create a list of colleges to apply to?
Your best college financial aid will likely come from the college you attend. This means students need to rethink their college search based on size. Size is probably one of the first limitations students use when searching for colleges, often based on little to no real experience or evidence. And if you’re interested in getting the best college financial aid possible, this is a big mistake.
Anyone who pays attention to the media has heard the alarming reports about student debt. In the United States student loan debt is about $1.7 trillion which exceeds the total credit card balance. Scary numbers. You would expect the question, “How much should I borrow for college?” to be the question that all students and their families are asking. But I don’t’ think that’s actually the case. Let me explain why.
Recently I was profiling Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and learned about their Ski and Ride program for students. They offer various discounted passes to the Sugarbush ski resort along with a free weekend shuttle. I thought it was a pretty appealing program and did a quick web search for other colleges for skiers. I found several sites claiming their lists had some version of the best schools for skiers. They ranged in length from 10 to 30 schools. Saint Michael’s didn’t show up on a single list. Why not?
Too many people think that your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is something that you worry about when you apply for financial aid–if they have heard the term at all. And if you’re a family with high school students thinking about college, it’s definitely a term you should become familiar with immediately. Why? Because what you don’t know about your EFC, which will be called the Student Aid Index (SAI) starting for 2023 (for the 23-24 academic year), can hurt you long before you even start to fill-out college application forms.
There are over 1,600 four-year public and private colleges in the United States. And guess what, they don’t all cost an arm and a leg to attend. With this many colleges, there have to be quality, affordable options available for families who look for them. And there are students attending college without facing the prospect of years of debilitating debt. Yet, attending affordable colleges comes with some trade-offs that not all families are willing to make.