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Harvard Scholarships: No Such Thing

Hand holding letter and calculating Harvard Scholarships that don't existBy no such thing as Harvard Scholarships, I mean no such thing as Harvard Merit Scholarships. So if you’re thinking you’ll be able to pay for Harvard based on your kid’s academic qualifications (after all, they were good enough to get into Harvard) you need to think again. The reward for your student’s amazing accomplishment is the acceptance letter itself. Any scholarships Harvard hands out will be based on financial need, not academics.

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Scholarships can be based on need or merit

The problem is that the term “scholarship” can refer to either need-based or merit-based awards. And let’s face it, it’s just easier to say “Mary got a full-ride scholarship to Harvard” rather than “Harvard met Mary’s full need with need-based grants and work-study.” The fact is that Harvard is incredibly generous with its need-based aid so quite a few students can claim “Harvard Scholarships.” But they have nothing to do with merit.

Why am I even talking about Harvard scholarships? Because I want people to understand where to find merit scholarships and explaining why it isn’t Harvard gets people’s attention. Ultimately, Harvard isn’t the only college that doesn’t offer merit scholarships. You can see the list below. But let’s keep our focus on Harvard for a moment.

The Harvard Scholarships example

There are plenty of families with kids applying to Harvard, Over 40,000 in the Fall of 2020. Plenty applied understanding the nature of financial aid at Harvard; in fact, quite a few didn’t care because they’re willing to pay full price. But the parents of some percentage of students who applied, thought that if they were good enough to get into Harvard, their academic performance would be rewarded financially with scholarships as well. Having heard something about need-based aid, they were thinking merit scholarships since that’s the term floating around in the college admissions process.

Chances are that their kids all worked very hard and “deserved” to be rewarded for their hard work. But who does the rewarding? Who is to provide the merit scholarships? And why doesn’t Harvard provide merit scholarships?

The purpose of merit scholarships

Without going into the history of merit scholarships, the reason they exist to the extent they do today is for colleges to provide incentives for students to attend their institutions. If you aren’t Harvard, how do you get kids with great academic credentials to attend your school? You offer them a scholarship to reward those great academic credentials.

From the school’s perspective, merit scholarships are an incentive. They are marketing. They actually call it “tuition discounting.” Students with the right credentials are receiving a coupon to attend their school.

Do you now understand why there is no such thing as Harvard scholarships? They don’t need to market their school. They already have more applicants with amazing qualifications than they can admit. Harvard has absolutely no need to provide incentives to attract students to apply.

And they are quite clear about it on their website. Harvard’s Frequently Asked Questions:

Are there any merit-based financial aid awards at Harvard?
No, we admit students based on their strengths and talents, but all Harvard-administered aid is based only on financial need, and we treat all admitted students equally in terms of their eligibility for that aid.

So no merit scholarships. But it’s no wonder people talk about Harvard Scholarships since the FAQ also includes:

How do you determine eligibility for Harvard Scholarships?
We determine your financial aid award based solely on your family’s demonstrated financial need. Our program is designed to help families across the economic spectrum, from low to upper-middle incomes. Aid is completely need-based and considers many factors, such as your family’s income, assets, size, and unusual expenses. There are no merit-based awards, and we have no preferential packaging policies that give some students more attractive awards than others.

The question asks about scholarships and while the answer talks about “awards” rather than “scholarships” it’s easy to see how people use the term Harvard scholarships even when it’s all based on need.

The fact is that if you get into Harvard, you better be able to afford your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as calculated by the Institutional Methodology because their won’t be any help from merit scholarships.

If you’re looking for colleges that will reward academic accomplishments with generous merit aid, then you need to find schools that don’t have their pick of the best students available. It means that you’ll need to avoid schools like Harvard. The following is a list of 84 schools that provide little to no merit aid. Many claim to meet full-need but not all.

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Colleges that don’t Offer Merit Scholarships

Name

Type

State

 % Admitted

Amherst College

Private

MA

12

Appalachian State University

Public

NC

80

Babson College

Private

MA

27

Barnard College

Private

NY

14

Bates College

Private

ME

14

Boston College

Private

MA

26

Boston University

Private

MA

20

Bowdoin College

Private

ME

9

Brown University

Private

RI

8

Bucknell University

Private

PA

38

California Institute of Technology

Private

CA

7

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Public

CA

65

California State University-Bakersfield

Public

CA

78

California State University-Long Beach

Public

CA

42

California State University-San Marcos

Public

CA

79

Carleton College

Private

MN

21

Carnegie Mellon University

Private

PA

17

Claremont McKenna College

Private

CA

13

Colby College

Private

ME

10

Colgate University

Private

NY

27

Colorado College

Private

CO

14

Columbia University in the City of New York

Private

NY

7

Cornell University

Private

NY

11

Dartmouth College

Private

NH

9

Davidson College

Private

NC

20

Duke University

Private

NC

8

Elon University

Private

NC

72

Emory University

Private

GA

19

Franklin and Marshall College

Private

PA

37

Georgetown University

Private

DC

17

Governors State University

Public

IL

48

Hamilton College

Private

NY

18

Harvard University

Private

MA

5

Haverford College

Private

PA

18

James Madison University

Public

VA

80

Johns Hopkins University

Private

MD

11

Lafayette College

Private

PA

36

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Private

MA

7

Middlebury College

Private

VT

22

New York University

Private

NY

21

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Public

NC

46

Northwestern University

Private

IL

9

Pitzer College

Private

CA

17

Pomona College

Private

CA

9

Princeton University

Private

NJ

6

Reed College

Private

OR

42

Rice University

Private

TX

11

San Diego State University

Public

CA

37

San Jose State University

Public

CA

67

Scripps College

Private

CA

35

Skidmore College

Private

NY

32

Smith College

Private

MA

37

Spelman College

Private

GA

53

Stanford University

Private

CA

5

Swarthmore College

Private

PA

9

The University of Texas at Austin

Public

TX

32

Trinity College

Private

CT

36

Tufts University

Private

MA

16

United States Merchant Marine Academy

Public

NY

24

University of California-Berkeley

Public

CA

17

University of California-Davis

Public

CA

46

University of California-Riverside

Public

CA

66

University of California-San Diego

Public

CA

37

University of California-Santa Cruz

Public

CA

65

University of Chicago

Private

IL

7

University of Florida

Public

FL

31

University of Georgia

Public

GA

48

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Public

NC

25

University of Notre Dame

Private

IN

19

University of Pennsylvania

Private

PA

9

University of Richmond

Private

VA

31

University of Virginia-Main Campus

Public

VA

23

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Public

WI

57

Utah Valley University

Public

UT

Vanderbilt University

Private

TN

12

Vassar College

Private

NY

25

Wake Forest University

Private

NC

32

Washington and Lee University

Private

VA

25

Washington University in St Louis

Private

MO

16

Wellesley College

Private

MA

20

Wesleyan University

Private

CT

21

William & Mary

Public

VA

42

Williams College

Private

MA

15

Yale University

Private

CT

7

If the school posted its Common Data Set (CDS) information, I used the information from the financial aid section to calculate the number of non-need students receiving merit aid. If the CDS information isn’t available, I used the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)information to identify schools providing limited merit aid. Therefore, some of the schools do offer merit scholarships, but remember I said “little to no merit aid.” Let’s take Duke as an example.

Duke Scholarships

Duke’s financial aid page lists ten, that’s right ten, different merit scholarship programs, nine of which students are automatically considered for. Definitely a sign of “Duke Scholarships,” right? Yes, but they should be considered rare. If you want to understand just how many merit scholarships we’re talking about, you need to visit Duke’s Common Data Set.

According to Duke’s 2019-20 Common Data Set, it awarded over $10 million in non-need based aid. Sounds like a lot, right? It probably is to the 132 undergraduates out of 6,546 who received them. Only 14 freshman without need received “Duke Scholarships” according to the Common Data Set.

Northwestern Scholarships

How about another, one that doesn’t post its Common Data Set information. If you’re wondering why not, maybe the financial aid information is a reason why.

A quick web search takes you to the Northwestern University Scholarship page. The page lists a variety of Northwestern scholarships, most that have a significant financial need component. And even though Northwestern isn’t posting their common data set information, you can get most of it from CollegeData.com. Under the “Financials” section, you’ll find that Northwestern reported 92 freshman without need receiving an average award of $4,437. That’s out of 3,654 freshman enrolled so we’re talking less than 3% of freshman receiving merit awards.

Appalachian State University Scholarships

Then there is the case of schools that don’t have a low acceptance rate but still offer few merit scholarships. These tend to be public schools and there are certainly more than those that appear on the list. Quite a few of the public institutions simply do not complete the Financial Aid part of the CDS. Does that mean that their values are 0 or they just have better things to do?

Back to Appalachian State University. It did complete the CDS and reported only 104  out of 1,644 freshman without need receiving institutional merit aid. Given it could only meet 68.4% of freshman financial need, it’s easy to see why they offer few merit scholarships.

Common Data Set

The only information that states the number of students without need receiving merit aid is the Common Data Set (CDS). It’s the survey used by US News Best College Rankings and other publishers to collect information not available from the Federal Government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). However, the reliability of the data is questionable and cannot be easily searched through the select number of college search websites that publish it. Approximately half of all schools post their CDS information online allowing students and families to look up the information themselves. However, it does make it difficult to compare schools which is probably the point.

The Common Data Set has some obvious limitations in terms of identifying schools offering merit scholarships. One issue is that things are relative. When a school charges over $80,000 a year, a lot more high-income students are going to qualify as having financial need. Therefore, students who receive a merit-award which the school uses to address need, will not show up as a non-need student receiving merit aid. Theoretically.

The fact is that over the years I have found a dozen or so schools each year where the numbers simply don’t add up: the numbers of non-need students receiving merit scholarships exceed the calculated total number of non-need students. I’m sure there are plenty of others that I missed because if the number of non-need students receiving merit scholarships does not exceed the calculated total number of non-need students, I don’t have any math warning signs that something is not right.

Ultimately, I consider the matter irrelevant. You don’t need the Common Data Set information to identify which schools are offering meaningful merit aid and which don’t. I won’t go into the specifics here but you can see the basic strategy at 4 Easy Steps to Find Colleges with Merit Scholarships.  The point of this post was to let people know that the hardest schools in the country to get into do not reward the academic achievements with merit aid. Students can generally expect amazing need-based aid as defined by the school.

Colleges that offer generous merit aid or academic scholarships, do so because they aren’t as well known and are trying to attract students to their campus. They are by definition, not as competitive as the elite schools. Basically, the lower the acceptance rate, the lower the chances for merit aid.

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Harvard Scholarships: No Such Thing

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