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Chasing Merit aid versus college rank

chaphillmomchaphillmom 56 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
Question regarding the trade offs of merit aid versus college rank, specifically for ABET accredited engineering programs. DS20 falls into what I have seen on CC as the "average excellent" category. 35 ACT, 4.0 UW (well, it is possible he will get a B in AP Calc BC this semester, it is teetering on the edge), fairly rigorous schedule of AP classes, Eagle Scout. However no compelling hooks or tippy top accomplishments/ honors. He will not be qualified for financial aid.

We have organized schools into three buckets: (1) the local state school, NC State, which has a great engineering program and we can pay full price using savings set aside for that purpose (2) top rated engineering schools that have a low probability of admission success that he can only attend if he receives an ROTC scholarship and (3) engineering schools that aren't as highly ranked, but offer great automatic merit aid based on his stats (example of UA- Huntsville, or Ole Miss). This final bucket are all public universities in other states that offer great merit aid even to OOS students.

He will apply for other scholarships, but won't count on them. And, he is sincerely interested in serving in the military, so we aren't pushing him into the ROTC option in any way purely to pay for school. But he understands as well that we won't pay 75k/year for school. DS is pretty chill about it overall, he isn't expecting to get into a T20, but wants to apply to a few anyway. "you definitely don't get into the schools you don't apply to"

Is this a sound strategy? The schools with great merit aid seem nice, but are not ranked particularly well. I read some posts saying how great it is to get a degree from a top notch program, and others saying it only matters that they are accredited and in the long run it is better to start out with no debt because the long term salaries will even out if you are good at your job. Anyone who has been, or kids have been, in this situation? What did you choose, and are you glad you did?

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Replies to: Chasing Merit aid versus college rank

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78238 replies690 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    (2) top rated engineering schools that have a low probability of admission success that he can only attend if he receives an ROTC scholarship

    If he has low probability of admission success, and he needs a (competitive) ROTC scholarship to afford to attend, that makes such a school a double-reach (for both admission and the ROTC scholarship).
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 29422 replies58 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    For many families who do not qualify for financial aid, but have budgetary constraints, it comes down to what is the target school that is affordable and still meets all of the marks. A lot of such parents will stretch the budget for name recognition schools. Also the ranking of the engineering department might not be as important as the the overall likeability of the school. As an extreme example, I know very few people who would turn down Harvard even over a Georgia Tech (higher ranked engineering dept) with generous merit money. So you have those issues in play.

    In your son’s situation, he appears to have a solid target with NCState. Eminently affordable, great school, and great chance of admissions. Would he trade that for Similarly priced UNC-CH, if he gained entry? What about UVA for significantly more money as merit would not be likely from them? Would your son choose CaseWestern over NCState if they came up with money to make the cost differential irrelevant? How about Georgia Tech if it gave merit money? Or Maryland? Or Pitt? Or Tulane? How about a full ride to Tulane or University of Alabama, possibilities for his stats?

    These are questions you should discuss with your son. You know right up front MIT, CIT, the Ivy’s are not going to give a dime for merit money because they don’t. So applying to those schools a waste of time and just caused emotional stress if accepted if you know up front that you aren’t going to borrow to pay that premium. How much more than the NC State cost are you willing to pay if the school is preferable to your son?

    Friends of ours had UMich, CMU, Cornell, Georgia Tech, MD, PSU , and One of the SUNY schools as their choices. Georgia Tech was more expensive than the SUNY but with the discount and the fact that it is highly ranked in engineering and the student preferred it, the parents went with it. They might have sprung for PSU or MD as well, paying the OOS premium. The other 3 schools were off the table because of cost. $70k+ wasn’t going to work.

    This is the sort of juggling act one does with colleges.

    I’d add UAlabama (main campus) , Tulane, MD, Georgia Tech to your list and also any schools that have ROTC and he likes. Go for broke on those with the firm understanding that without the ROTC scholarship, it’s not going to happen.

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  • anon145anon145 610 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited May 15
    @chaphillmom try to get into Honors at NCSU; only 185 kids a year get it, but the kid gets to register for classes before every other undergrad. It makes State amazing. In any honors essays, make sure your kid emphasizes they will go to state if they get honors in a subtle way; they are very careful not to offer honors to kids they think won't go there. Wolfpaw, the ncsu portal for accepted/currrent students, has resources where you can see what kids get what grades with which teachers; for physics everyone takes the same test so you can see who the best teachers are; there are honors sections of many required classes for Chem, Math, Physics where they put the best teachers too. NC State with honors is almost like going to an T20 school with engineering. (the student still has to council themselves on when/what to take a bit). Use naviance! My guess is your kid is a lock. I don't see the point of bucket #2. state and bucket 3 seem more reasonable.
    edited May 15
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  • Trixy34Trixy34 1181 replies6 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited May 15
    Clarkson seems to be a school that is often overlooked, yet it continues to rank highly in graduate job placement. It also gives phenomenal merit aid packages (so I hear, anyway). The climate might be too much of a shock for a Southerner, but it's worth a consideration.
    edited May 15
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 56 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @ucbalumnus - agree, it is a double reach. But he is still interested in giving it a try. Actually, I think ROTC will be a bit more likely than acceptance to the high reach schools! But, obviously, not a guarantee for success. And by low probability, I mean that even for qualified applicants there is only a 5-15% chance of getting in.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78238 replies690 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited May 15
    In your son’s situation, he appears to have a solid target with NCState. Eminently affordable, great school, and great chance of admissions. Would he trade that for Similarly priced UNC-CH, if he gained entry?

    UNC-CH has only biomedical engineering. The other NC publics (besides NCSU) with a selection of the usual engineering majors are NC A&T and UNC Charlotte.
    edited May 15
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 29422 replies58 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Well, that eliminates that one.
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  • anon145anon145 610 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited May 15
    @ucbalumnus must be an engineer; NCSU has a ton of engineering undergrad majors, there's a co-op program which typically pays 18$ an hour plus overtime and per diems if sent out of state for a project. (they provide housing and a rental car too (for out of state) and usually onsite meals as well.) NC residents are lucky to have UNC and NCSU at 9,000$ a year in state tuition
    edited May 15
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 56 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @cptofthehouse - we've been having those very discussions. He knows that anything significantly >NC State will need to be by either merit aid or ROTC. Georgia Tech, MIT are both two of his ROTC top choices and he would very happily go to either. Bucket 3 is something that he thinks will be fine, but doesn't drum up the same level of enthusiasm. He spent 3 weeks at a NC State nuclear engineering summer program last year and really liked it- so his baseline school is one that he could be very happy about.
    @anon145 - I've heard the honors program at NC Stateis great. Any idea how difficult it is to get accepted? I know they automatically invite some students to apply based on stats, but I wasn't sure if it was extremely difficult to get into.

    I guess one question I have is for anyone who decided to take the 'bucket 3' pathway, and how you found that experience to be.
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  • scubadivescubadive 1091 replies3 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I think your plan is pretty close to perfect. I would do likewise.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 29422 replies58 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It can happen. One of son’s friends did Naval ROTC at Tufts. Only way he was going to get to go there. And he didn’t have the stats your son has. Just graduated.
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  • AlmostThere2018AlmostThere2018 1340 replies49 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My S21 is interested in engineering and we also are in NC. Public universities tend to dominate in the engineering world and most don't give much aid to OOS -- except those auto merits you're targeting. That's what makes NCSU so attractive.

    Is he going to be NMF? If so, I think UF might also have a really sweet merit opportunity.

    Do you have a top budget? There are some T15 public engineering that are more like $45 or 50k -- not $75k like the privates. I'm thinking of Wisconsin, VT, Purdue. That may still be more than you want to pay -- and it's truly hard to justify over State.

    How excited is he about going to State?

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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78238 replies690 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    He spent 3 weeks at a NC State nuclear engineering summer program last year and really liked it- so his baseline school is one that he could be very happy about.

    Is nuclear engineering a likely major? If so, then the number of colleges with it is fairly limited (about 22).
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  • momocarlymomocarly 892 replies11 threadsRegistered User Member
    Not exactly the same but my son chose an OOS public over in state Texas A&M or applying at other reaches by choice. He liked the program better and they gave him some great scholarships and enrollment in the Honors college and acceptance in a highly selective program. He is not an engineer but absolutely is loving his experience. He has fraternity brothers that are graduating engineers and they have job offers all over the country. I am an engineer and we have lots of people from all types of schools from all over the country and they do just as well if not better than the top tier school kids.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 29422 replies58 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    If he is adamant about what sort of engineering, and it narrows the firld, then the list will be short anyways.

    I don’t like seeing kids limit themselves that way. About half the kids I’ve known have not stuck with engineering as s major. More than that for the various other majors. I’ve seen kids put their parents through contortions to get into some unusual program and they don’t last a semester. A lot of those kids were seriously directed kids, with excellent stats too.
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 6715 replies57 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Your strategy is indeed sound. ABET is a great leveler. UMi did a study on starting salaries across a variety of engineering specialties. Cornell- unquestionably a high-level engineering school- posts a lot of graduate data. Look at how they line up:


    US avg v Cornell

    BME: 62,411 v 47.075
    Civil: 59,230 v 62,324
    Chem E: 68520 v 79185
    Env Eng: 59008 v 72,500
    Mat Sci: 73964 v 68,675
    Mech Eng: 64956 v 74,383

    Obviously, you can only put so much weight on averages from a given year, and $10-15K is a big difference to a new grad! but to me the takeaway is that when you put it all together, the differences are differences of degree, not of kind- right out the gate..

    There are differences in programs, and university 'feel'- focus on those.Graduating w/o debt is a huge gift to a student- one they can't begin to appreciate until they start knowing people with debt.

    Fwiw, NCState is a *super* program, and I know quite a few students who actually enjoyed their engineering course there. Not a small consideration.

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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 5273 replies77 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Why not USNA or USCGA?
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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 56 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited May 16
    @privatebanker USNA is on the list, he is going to one of their summer seminars in June to verify that it is the right type of fit for him. I just didn't list it here because (a) the odds of an appointment are so low and (b) it really removes the whole financial conundrum altogether. :)

    Thanks to everyone else for the kind responses. DS isn't locked into Nuclear, it was just a great opportunity to explore that interest and spend a few weeks at NC State. He definitely can see himself there, and it's a top choice. However, he has also stated that if he got into MIT or GT that he would choose them over State. He is also interested in chemical and aerospace engineering, so there is a pretty wide range of programs he can include in the selection.

    We are fortunate to be able to pay more than state, but have chosen to 'draw a line in the sand'. DH did ROTC, and his grad school payed him to attend so he came out with a doctorate and money in the bank. I took the other path...small LACs racking up a lot of student loans. We agreed to a midway point for any kids we had. We will pay 100% in-state costs. If he manages to require less than that, we will put the surplus into savings for him, if he goes over then he needs to find merit.
    edited May 16
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