FAQ: What is merit aid?

Post-it note asking What is merit aid?Merit aid refers to college awarded financial aid that is not based on financial need. The most commonly recognized form of merit aid is the scholarship. Scholarships may be awarded for academic skills or achievements based on talents such as athletic, artistic, or leadership. Other types of merit aid include tuition waivers or institutional grants not based on financial need. Unlike most outside scholarships, merit aid is awarded for all four years of college.

Merit money is awarded by colleges to attract students to the college. Not all institutions provide merit money. The top ranked private colleges and universities generally do not provide merit money since they easily attract the country’s best students. Such schools claim that all of their students are academically talented and therefore only provide need-based financial aid.

Student generally don’t apply for the majority of merit aid that is available. The college makes the awards during the admissions process, another indicator that merit money is used to encourage students to attend the institution. This means that students must apply to a college to find out how much money they might receive. However, some net price calculators provides estimates of merit aid as well.

Merit money can range from a few thousand dollars to the full cost of attendance. A good student, not necessarily a straight A student, can expect to receive between $10,000 to $20,000 in merit money from less competitive private colleges. Private colleges may award minimal amounts of up to $5,000 to weaker students who can afford to pay the full cost of tuition.

Public universities do award merit money but generally not nearly to the extent of private institutions. These awards will often be much more competitive and require a separate application.

US News has a list rankings colleges on the percent of students receiving non-need based aid.


  1. […] As I work with college data, I learn about different variables and add them to my data sets. I also occasionally create a variable to more accurately capture a concept or value that I think is important when trying to figure out how much college will cost. This is why you’ll see multiple posts on some variation of a list of colleges with the best financial aid. And because of the variation,  you’ll always find some colleges on one list and not another.  Well, I’m adding another list of colleges to consider for merit aid. […]

  2. […] Given that the chances of full-ride scholarships aren’t great, you’ll want to pay attention to test scores for more than just NCAA requirements. Total cost of attendance (out-of-state for public) starts at almost $24,000.  Three of the colleges are over $60,000. This means you need to have a way to make up the difference that isn’t covered by any athletic scholarships. And you should definitely have a plan in place should you stop playing. The higher your test scores, the more likely you are to qualify for merit aid. […]

  3. […] Even in the sports that offer more scholarships than NCAA schools, you need to remember that they aren’t necessarily fully funded. And we still aren’t talking about that many more scholarships. Therefore, players and their families need to pay attention to college costs. Only three of the 50-50 NAIA schools are public. The sticker price for the private colleges start at $33,952 and top out at over $60,000. Besides the fact that an athletic scholarship isn’t likely to cover the full amount, you need to consider what happens should you stop playing. Investing in some test prep could open up some valuable merit aid. […]

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