How to Find Merit Scholarships: Follow the Money

Man-searching-on-the-beach-to find merit scholarshipsThere are 1,586 public and not-for-profit colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates.  Which of them are likely to give you merit scholarships? Unfortunately, there’s really no one right way to search for such colleges. After all, the college that provides a generous amount of merit scholarship to one student will deny it to another.

You need to figure out ways to increase your odds of receiving a merit scholarship. Of course, high grades and test scores make you a more appealing candidate but you improve your chances even more by being the appealing candidate for the right school. If you’re trying to find merit scholarships, targeting potential colleges is just as important as your personal qualifications.

Identifying colleges isn’t an exact science. The ten schools my son applied to offered him between $7,000 and $20,000 in merit scholarships. However, all but two offered at least $15,000, the minimum we were looking for to make a private school affordable. And he was very happy with his choices among the eight schools.

You are going to need to try different ways to narrow the over 1,500 schools to ones more likely to offer money and you’re interested in attending.

Since you have to start somewhere, you may as well begin by following the money. After all, you need money to be able to give it. In the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet, you can sort by the Endowment per Student. According to the latest available IPEDS information, the top five schools are:

Princeton: $2,320,421
Yale: $1,528,324
Harvard: $1,392,761
Stanford: $1,215,932
Pomona: $1,146,818

When I do these kinds of sorts, I like to scroll down looking for a useful cut-off point for a manageable number of colleges to consider, usually somewhere around 200. In this case, the 200th school was Fairfield University with $57,869 per student. So for the sake of nice, round numbers, I selected all schools with 55,000 or more endowment per student. This left 210 colleges and universities.

You may think that 200 is far too many. It’s really not since it’s so easy to start reducing the numbers with just a few requirements. My next requirement is a 50% or better graduation rate. I use the four-year rate for private schools and the five-year rate for public schools. After applying this filter, 33 colleges dropped off the list. I guess money isn’t everything.

The next thing I looked at was acceptance rates. It doesn’t matter how much money a school gives away if you can’t get in. Furthermore, the more difficult it is to be admitted, the less likely a school is to provide merit scholarships. After all, they don’t really have to worry about attracting the best and the brightest, do they? So I set a 40% or better admitted requirement which left me with 97 schools.

I know 97 still sounds like a lot but we haven’t screened the schools for such basic considerations as size, location, or even majors. And even if the 97 schools are among the better endowed in the country, that doesn’t mean that they’re eager to give away their money. Trust me, 97 isn’t too many start with when you’re trying to find merit scholarship.

I have the schools selected so far in PDF format. The highlighted schools are the 97 left after applying the graduation and admission rate filters.

Next Week: How to figure out which schools are more likely to give to money and which aren’t.

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