Academic merit and outside scholarships

I apologize, probably outing myself here as impossibly dumb, but DS has started getting some acceptances at schools he specifically applied to because they offer good merit and because he was well above their average admit, stats-wise. His strategy seems to be paying off, with three merit awards of $30k+ thus far. It’s early though, so no complete financial aid package from any of them.

My super dumb question is — with regard to these merit awards — will schools take some of that money back if he secures outside scholarships? I know most will take it back for need-based merit but will they for academic and/or athletic merit?

Full disclosure, he is a recruit and has an ED app in somewhere that would trump all these other acceptances. But if that isn’t meant to be, am just wondering if he could lower these numbers even further with outside scholarships.

Thanks in advance!

Not a dumb question, but… this is too school/scholarship/situation specific for anyone here to provide a meaningful answer without more information. So, my general and unhelpful answer is, it depends.


I agree that the answer is “it depends,” but the answer I seem to be getting is that you can stack scholarships and the school scholarship won’t be reduced unless the total exceeds the cost of attendance.

I don’t know if that is the most common policy or just the answer that I am getting, but I have asked and received that response at three schools.

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Does he know what the athletic offer will be? Is it a headcount sport where he’s guaranteed a full scholarships (D1 football or Basketball)?

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No, it’s an equivalency sport (xc/track). The ED is a D3 school so athletic scholarship won’t be in play there. But he has one D1 offer in hand with academic + athletic merit, and two D3s with academic merit.

I’m fairly sure everything will work out with the ED school but just in case it doesn’t, I’m trying to get a handle on a) his best plan B and b) whether or not we can chip away at that COA with external scholarships, or if he shouldn’t even bother.

So, as suggested above, I went poking around on their websites and it’s all very vague. The word “may” does a LOT of heavy lifting haha.

“Once financial need has been met, the loan and work-study portions of your financial aid offer may be adjusted before reducing or retracting any need-based aid offered by the university” and “if the external scholarship exceeds the total cost of attendance, institutional and/or federal funds may be reduced” and “substantial funding from outside scholarships may impact your awards … award adjustments can vary from the reduction of loan offers to a decrease in other institutional aid offered.” The fourth school says nothing whatsoever about how private scholarships are handled on its website.

I guess I’ll just have to call them all. Blah.

Thanks all for the input.

I think that says that loans and federal aid would be reduced before need based aid (good thing).

Go ahead and have him apply for outside scholarships. The only downside is the work he’ll have to do to apply (essays, forms, interviews) but it sounds like there is some upside to eliminating loans first and maybe he’d get so much it would eliminate the student contribution.

And it is fun to win things, including scholarships.

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Need based aid will be reduced if he has less need (ie. receiving outside scholarships). Merit aid most likely won’t be reduced as long as his total (merit + scholarships) is less than COA but that depends on the specifics and small print of the merit offer. There are some ways that a student can increase their COA. For example, I think once in 4 years they are allowed to spend aid on a computer.

Many outside scholarships are for one year. If he receives several, he may be able to defer some so that he doesn’t receive them all his freshman year and go over COA.

Finally, some outside scholarships will send the check to your son personally and not the school. He is supposed to report those funds to the school but some don’t.

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Okay thanks so much. The merit vs. need based aid thing is kind of what I’m getting at (but clearly having difficulty articulating hahaha).

All of the schools he has been accepted to thus far are ~ 70k COA (full pay). We have an EFC on the FAFSA of ~40k (which I know we shouldn’t pay much attention to) and the NPCs (which we should pay attention to) are all coming back at around 35k.

We haven’t received a financial aid package from any of these schools. Just award letters with his acceptances, detailing merit awards ranging from 30-37k. So what I’m stuck on is – if his merit award covered the full 35k gap between our NPC result and the full COA, will whatever he makes in an outside scholarship come off of what we owe out of pocket? OR will they just take some of the merit back and our out of pocket number remains unchanged?

More succinctly – are merit and need-based aid the same thing?

Those merit awards have been awarded before an analysis of your need (correct?), so those are true merit awards and not the same as need-based awards, as I understand it. Those are the ones I have been told will not be reduced unless they exceed the cost of attendance (at least at the schools I consulted). An exception is that some school National Merit scholarships are reduced by the amount of OTHER National Merit Scholarships received directly from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

But I still like to send emails confirming my understanding so I have it in writing somewhere.

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Yes, you are correct. Because we haven’t had a full financial aid package prepared (let alone heard from FA in any capacity, at any of these schools that have accepted him) I don’t think these are need-based awards? I can see that they downloaded our FAFSA but that’s it. No other indication FA has even involved to this point.

I should also note, none of these are CSS schools. All the schools he is waiting on (including the ED) did require the CSS, and we HAVE heard from their FA offices about a correction to our CSS, all in the last two weeks or so. But the non-CSS schools, we’ve heard nothing.

Remember to add in the colleges’ estimated total cost of attendance. This will help you in figuring out how much they may chip away if you identify outside scholarships.

Duke and JHU had the most detailed info on this situation. The issues seem come into play at colleges meeting 100% - they are going to make sure you are paying their EFC. Being an RA even gets deducted and that had been part of a plan down the road during years 2,3, or 4.

Some colleges allow stacking of need based and merit aid and outside scholarships…and some don’t.

Very school specific….so ask the school!