Getting Accepted does NOT mean that a Merit Scholarship will be forthcoming....

In fall, many students pay little attention to the financial aspects of paying for college. Many assume that “grants and merit scholarships” will make their dreams affordable. Many don’t even bother to find out if their schools give merit awards or if their stats are high enough to qualify for consideration. Many just assume the money will be forthcoming. Period.

**Now, in late winter, **is when we see parents and students posting questions like: “I’ve been accepted to XXX University, when will I get my merit scholarship?”

They will then often post stats that are quite average for the school, or stats that are often quite LOW for the school…but they assume that a merit scholarship will be awarded. Some applied to schools that either don’t give merit or only give very competitive awards to a small number of targeted students that those schools want to poach away from elite schools. I can only guess that they’re all thinking: “I was accepted, therefore I will get merit.”

Many think that the fact that they “did many ECs” or “wrote a great essay,” means that they’ll be rewarded with thousands of dollars.

Does this thinking come from the T-ball years where “everyone gets a participation trophy”?

I recently was talking to a parent whose average-stats-child was accepted to the family’s favorite OOS public. The parent told me that they need a merit award that will cover 50-75% of COA, which is approaching 50k per year…and will hit $50k sometime during child’s college time. They are expecting an award of $25k-33k PER YEAR! Really? Do they think that no one should be paying most/all of the costs?

I was speechless. Where does this sort of thinking come from? At this particular school, the very high test score students are getting about $25k per year, yet this family thinks their modest stats child should get that amount and MORE?? A 75% award is approx the amount that the NMFs get.

There seems to be a disconnect between “want” and reality. Wanting to go to a school doesn’t equate to the school bankrupting itself to make itself ultra-cheap for everyone thru merit.

The student’s stats qualified for the lowest award…about $3k per year. The family is expecting another (MUCH larger) award to come in the spring.

Schools that are “generous with merit,” are rarely generous with EVERY student. They are RARELY generous with most students. They are mostly generous to those well-within the top quartile for test scores. Merit scholarships are supposed to serve a purpose…entice high stats students to enroll. Schools aren’t just being nice and benevolent when awarding merit…they’re rather self-serving…they’re buying top test scores with strong GPAs.

Sure, the schools like the “just good students,” too, but schools are not going to hand over mega-bucks in merit to entice them to attend. (The exceptions to this seems to be those small privates that are desperate for warm bodies in the seats, so they’ve raised tuition so that they can flatter acceptees with a token merit…maybe $10k per year off an overly-inflated COA of $55k.

Also…usually high GPAs alone do not warrant much/any merit. Test scores are primarily important, in most cases. Getting more high test score students on campus raises the “reported middle quartile test scores”, which raises the school’s profile.

Here is a brief run-down of how merit is awarded…

There is a HUGE pool of students with high GPAs (this is due to grade inflation, easier curriculums, etc).

There is a smaller pool of students with high TEST SCORES (top 25% of the college)

There is an even smaller pool of students with BOTH high test scores and high GPAs. These are the students who typically get the merit awards. These students may be the top 30% at the college or maybe the top 2-5% of the college. Just depends on how much merit the college budgets to give away.

Absolutely agree that these parents and their children haven’t or didn’t even bother to go to the school’s web site on financial aid or use the NPC. Its like pulling teeth to get these posters to go to the school websites.

And where, OH WHERE, are the savings for college?? I hear it all of the time from work colleagues, neighbors, family: “I couldn’t afford to save any money for their college funds.” and “They’ll just have to get scholarships and work a part time job like we did.” REALLY? What century are you in?

We started saving early at $25 per month, per child in a 529. Yes it seemed like a LOT at the time, but over time, it built up their accounts and we gradually increased the amounts. We still REALLY underestimated the amounts needed.

My NM winner, gets $2500 per year.

My son applied this year to mid-level LACS in the northeast. We have had amazing success, totally beyond our expectations. We had been through this twice already and had a list where he was in a good spot stats-wise and where he would be able to audition for non-major music money. After running the calculators, these schools were solidly in budget. We felt good. When the yeses started coming in, every school gave him merit money well above what the NPCs indicated and, frankly, above what his GPA deserved. I will take to my grave that the reason for this is that he is a boy. We looked for non-major music scholarships, but inadvertently hit on schools with very large and unwelcome gender gaps. We hadn’t thought of that, but the fact is that gender balance is something that some schools do want and are willing to pay a bit for.

Even if you saved it may not be enough. The cost of college have went up so much in the last 10 years or so. You couldn’t tell me $40,000 wouldn’t be enough. At some state schools that would barely cover tuition now for 4 years.

I find it sad when so many kids say “but I worked so hard and got good grades and scores - how come BC (or other similar school) won’t give me enough merit money to attend?” without realizing that BC (or similar school) gives next to no merit aid. They don’t need to offer merit money to entice high-stats kids to attend.

I second what @zoosermom says about mid-level LACs having lots of money, especially for boys. S and D had very similar stats, applied to many of the same schools, and S was offered more money across the boards, and that’s because at most smaller LAC-type schools, there is a significant gender imbalance. Smart male students tend to go to large state U’s.

To sweeten the pot even more, S applied to several schools in the midwest. No application fees and LOTS of merit money. And the room and board is far cheaper than schools in the NorthEast.

So glad I started ‘early’, or that could have been me. In even my short time researching, I see merit disappearing (maybe gradually) at some target schools, and it’s got me nervous even for my junior. For my frosh? I’ll have to start all over.

Many schools use merit to bring down the overall cost and make it very widely available, even to students well outside of the top elite percentage. Those schools are using the often-criticized model of “merit as discount” (see any one of the several threads here on this topic). But it’s one situation that doesn’t fit the claim that you shouldn’t expect any merit at all if you aren’t in the top of a school’s admitted stats range. The real answer is “it depends.”

With kid #1, I was simply not paying attention and hadn’t discovered College Confidential yet. Ignorance was bliss until we saw the award letter and discovered we were awarded 100% loans.

With kid #2, we are armed and ready, thanks to CC. No thanks to the (full time) college counselor at her small college prep school.

The common narrative out there is full of misunderstandings and ignorance, as if the biggest hurdle is getting accepted to that perfect fit school, then you apply for scholarships.

One poster a couple of years ago asked “I was just accepted off the waitlist. When will I hear if I got the Trustees (full tuition merit) Scholarship?”

Uh, never!

@Midwest67 I agree with you about the college counselors. The one at my daughter school wasn’t really helpful either.

@sensation723 We had our almost-finalized short list full of OOS flagships offering full tuition and full tuition plus merit awards. At the meeting with the college counselor to review the list prior to application season, the counselor asked my kid in front of me if there weren’t some other (more selective, prestigious) schools she might regret not applying to.

That week, kid comes to me and says she has taken some schools off her list and added in some selective private schools. Her reasoning was two of them had competitive full tuition scholarships and one meets 100% need, and prestige was really important to her.

Although I didn’t prevent her from applying, and we were vague about our budget, I was clear it was very possible she’d get accepted but it would still be too much money. Could she handle the disappointment?

My kid said she felt like the counselor was “disappointed” in the schools on her original short list, and that a student of her caliber could do “better”. I bet that kind of thinking is prevalent.

We’re dealing with the let down now. I hope she comes around to realizing what a gift it is.

While the government mandated the NPC from every colleges, parents and students are still treating it as optional. Indeed, not many students can apply to any school they want without considering the cost. More interesting, they would post here and ask how much aid other students got from a particular school instead of punching in their own data to check. The same school can be very generous for one student but gives no aid to another one.

One other issue that merit-seeking students need to be aware of its that, except for automatic-for-stats merit scholarships, “chances” for merit scholarships tend to be much more difficult to assess than for admission. Most data sources (whether common data sets, high school Naviance, or similar data) focus on admission; there usually is nothing similar that can show how difficult a scholarship is.

Therefore, when in doubt, treat any merit scholarship, other than one which is automatic-for-stats that the student has, as a reach, unless there is substantial indication otherwise (e.g. every other student (not just one or a small percentage of students) with similar or worse application qualifications got the scholarship). No merit scholarship, other than one which is automatic-for-stats that the student has, should be treated as a safety.

Great thread and way to really lay it all out there @mom2collegekids.

I’ve been on CC for a couple of years now (DD is a senior). DS (current 9th grader) has a few friends whose parents have their heads in the sand about how much college will cost. Honestly, from what they are saying and doing (one just purchased a new house that was 2X as expensive as the one they just sold - kids are in 9th and 7th grades - they’ve mentioned having a huge mortgage) and their ages (they graduated from Big State Us in the 1980s) they have NO IDEA how much our state flagship is going to cost their kids. I think they’re in for a rude awakening.

Of course I can’t point blank tell them that they’re clueless … but I hope they will find CC on their own.

My pet peeve has been the way some schools describe criteria for its scholarships. We read the descriptions carefully, but I know families who haven’t and were confused about how difficult it was to get a specific award. Sometimes it can appear as if the student only needs to meet certain standards to be awarded the scholarship. More than once, after not being selected, I heard, “But he met all the criteria!” If you don’t know to watch for “key” words, then those checklists can be misleading.

They are usually referred to a minimum criteria.

The criteria only list out who is eligible to apply, not eligible to receive. It is the same thing when people are looking at the admission statistics. Being inside the acceptable range does not guarantee admission at all, particularly for competitive schools.

Thank you for writing this. So many people are misled both by what they publish on the websites and the discounted tuition used as marketing. I had a very awkward family reunion over the holidays with my late husband’s family. One aunt and cousin went on and on about the $10,000 and $15,000 “merit scholarships” offered to the cousin’s son from several small obscure expensive privates (still leaving $30-35,000 tuition bills), but how he was really counting on a particular service academy. This was followed immediately by recounting the kid’s interview for that academy in which the interviewer asked “what happened with your ACT?” Ummm, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that that question and another regarding the “atrocious spelling” in his application (explanation was that he was working on it up to the midnight deadline and didn’t have time to proofread!!!), pretty much meant that he didn’t have a chance. She seems to think that the kid’s good grades and his Eagle Scout are going to get him big merit at the schools he’s still waiting on (despite what sounds like a sub-par ACT, since the interviewer felt he needed to ask for an explanation), when they should have been hunting down full-demonstrated-need schools (they’re high need with a younger, seriously disabled child). Now’s he likely to end up somewhere that will give him need based aid, but there is likely to be a gap because they don’t cover the full COA. Just bit my tongue and was grateful that my son was a junior (sparing me the third degree on his scores and applications, along with the “S17 really should have done Eagle Scout, it’s soooo important for his applications” – btw, I respect the effort that goes into that, but it’s not the magic key to college admissions and they were still discriminatory at the time I would have had him join).

One thing we found out - the DIRECTIONAL state schools are apparently hungry for students with high test scores.

Flagships? Not so much.

My D came well below our budget because she applied to directional state schools, a couple OOS, that gave her big merit scholarships for her MEDIOCRE GRADES BUT 31 ACT. She has a B+ average, but gets to pay in-state tuition at the two OOS schools. She got half off tuition and fees at an in-state school.

We had encouraged her to look at the small LACs that would probably give her merit scholarships where she could pay close to half off the sticker price for tuition… The smaller state schools came in well below that, even OOS.

But most kids think the non-flagship state schools are beneath them. They worked soooo hard!.

And they will pay soooo much!

Look, if you can afford it, and money is not an issue, fine, go for the flagships or high-ranked private schools.

But if you are looking at substantial debt to go to your “dream” school - make sure it won’t turn your adult life into a financial nightmare. If that will be the case, you really should look at schools you and your family can afford.

I wish young people understood and appreciated the real value of starting out adult life with NO DEBT.

No debt = more freedom; less stress.

Finally, one thing we did - for every school my D was interested in, we sat down TOGETHER and looked at the common data set on that college’s web site; and we looked at the scholarships page for qualifications.

It’s under Financial Aid, and that is often found under the Admissions tab.

We will be chasing auto-merit money. If the school is that gives most auto merit is not as good at Texas Tech then, Kid will just live at home and go to Texas Tech because we live 11 miles from it. And that is because Texas Tech has a good engineering program with CS in the engineering school. Dream school is UT-Dallas.