Help Finding the Right School for Top 1% Student - Engineering & Needs Merit Aid

You are right. Clemson is large, and in a an ideal world, it is larger than she would like. However, the campus itself is walkable (huge plus), and as a general statement, it feels like a better “fit” overall. Her perfect school would be a campus like Furham with amazing engineering (and large merit aid). However, I am pretty sure that is a unicorn so we are trying to find the best, not perfect, fit for her.

She knows our parameters.

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Thank you! I have actually read that thread from start to finish, and it’s been one of my favorite ones on CC. There is so much helpful information in that thread, and honestly, it’s the thread that really opened my eyes to merit aid (and the limitations of financial aid, etc).

Like Kevin, we plan to cast a wide net.


It will help once you can visit a few more schools. MIT is about as urban as it gets so if she’s open to MIT, I think you can safely consider some other urban places!

Can you clarify the finances- you guys kick in 20K per year and your D takes her federal loans? Or the 20K already includes her loans? And is the 20K a realistic “we can pay 80K total over 4 years” or is it actually an optimistic “if everything goes right but we’re actually able to pay 60K” sort of budget?

It matters. I think viewing a four year, 8 semester plan is the way to go.

A hidden gem for engineering is Missouri M&T. You’ll need to run the numbers to see if it’s viable for you. It’s not close to home, and I don’t think “beats” your instate options. But highly regarded by employers and grad schools even if the woman at your local dry cleaners has never heard of it…


Obviously, if she is determined to apply you can’t stop her. And I know your daughter knows your parameters.

But you do her no favors by not discouraging an application. I have seen students apply to places like MIT, get an offer and then have to turn them down b/c they can’t afford it. It is crushing. Even students who -ahead of time- said that they ‘just wanted to know’, and were prepared to go wherever they need to- found it gutting to turn it down, and harder to love the 2nd (or 4th or whatever) choice.

Saying that there is a chance that it could be possible for her to go- even if you caution that it is ‘miniscule’ - keeps hope alive. MIT only gives financial aid, and it’s easy enough to figure out if you qualify for any at all. If you definitely won’t qualify, and you definitely won’t pay for it, applying is a no-win: she doesn’t get in? sting of rejection. She gets in but can’t go? dream crushed.

Writing application essays is a LOT of work. Better to focus it on choices that are realistic.


However, a no-merit-scholarships college which is too expensive on need-based aid has no chance of affordability, unless she gets a really big very rare outside scholarship. So it may not be worth the time spent on the application.


Have you run the Net Price Calculator at MIT? They have very good FA, so it mught not be as bad as you think. It will still be a lot more than GT though.

Don’t underestimate the time it is going to take to apply to colleges. Most schools have additional essays for honors college and for merit awards. My D applied to 8 schools and had 19 essays to write.

If you know you can’t afford a school, it’s going to be a much better use of your D’s time to knock the essays out of the park for the schools where she has a shot at merit.


I think she should look at some of the cohort-based scholarships, which can give a great experience with lots of opportunities. Applying for a number of those would probably be a better use of her time than seeking admission to somewhere you know is unaffordable. A partial compilation is here: Cohort-based competitive merit scholarships


She should really look at UF. May be bigger than she wants but it is the highest ranked school that will give her a FULL ride, and very strong for engineering.


Right…Kevin’s daughter did not make NMF. She was NHS finalist. As NMF, if the Benecquisto is funded, it’s a fabulous deal. Probably the best of the NMF awards awarded automatically to NMF.

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Based on what I have read, UF will not guarantee Benacquisto if FL discontinues its funding. That is a huge deterrent, especially when many schools will guarantee 4 years of scholarships. However, it is on our list to consider more in-depth.

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Thank you!

This would be the exact thing my daughter would love (money aside)! How do I subscribe to that thread? I haven’t needed to do this since the new format was rolled out.

For Florida public universities, be aware of the summer session requirement. Effectively, that means 8.5 semesters rather than 8 semesters of attendance is required for most students who entered as frosh to graduate.

Note that waivers are possible, but do not appear to be automatic and cannot be requested until relatively late (about about 5 semesters’ worth of credit). Since the best (or least worst) time to take the required summer session is early (since later summers are times where the engineering student is more likely to find a desirable internship), it can be a gamble to hope for the waiver if one does not take the summer session early.

At my son’s former HS (ranked #1 public in the US by WSJ) student’s with similar stats, goals and needing merit aid applied to places like:

Georgia Tech
Carnegie Mellon
Oxford/Cambridge - low tuition so as cheap or cheaper than US schools with merit aid

Don’t worry about the summer requirement at Florida schools. It is not a big deal and there are a lot of ways to meet the requirement. It is only 9 credits and many people get that done in one summer, through study abroad (which can be covered by the Benacquisto), summer internships and credit programs. Just not a big deal. Most of the schools give instate tuition rates to Benac. scholars so even if the student has to pay for those 9 credits, they are very very cheap. Most also have enough left over from the book allowance and the R&B allowance (if they don’t live in a dorm) to cover summer costs. Also, there is a May-mester to take 2-3 credits, so a student could stay for May for all 3 years and knock out those 9 credits, still get an internship and work the summer without missing a beat. The 9 credits are not additional credits, so it is likely the student would actually graduate a semester early, not take 8.5 semesters. Not sure how the Florida schools are scheduling summer classes (online or in-person) so the student might be able to take them from a different location (note: Benacquisto students do have to live near campus for the regular terms, even if classes are online).

UF doesn’t have as many scholarships as UCF or FSU, especially to cover if Benacquisto goes unfunded.


While Texas A&M is indeed enormous, it’s a great option for engineering and as of this year still offers an automatic National Scholars award for NMF that pretty much covers tuition, including OOS tuition waiver, so you’re left with the cost of R&B. Also, we were impressed with the University of Tulsa which has engineering and I think she’d be a strong candidate for their full tuition Presidential Scholars award. UT Dallas has full COA+ for NMF. These may be too far from home but do check the engineering + affordable boxes.


There are lots of Western schools that offer big money for NMF/high stats students, many with reputable honors programs: UT-Dallas, Texas Tech, U of AZ, Arizona State (huge!), U of Utah, U of NM. TBH, the quality of GA Tech will be hard to beat but if she wants a change of scenery, these are worth considering. Western cities have a very different feel - more suburban, less dense (some would say sprawling!)

If she wants to try for reaches with uber competitive merit scholarships (full tuition, perhaps more): Vanderbilt, Wash U, Emory (too close to home?), Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Lehigh, U of Richmond. For engineering, it would be NC State, not Chapel Hill, and I am not sure if Richmond has engineering or not.

Best of luck, I’m sure she’ll have options!


At Georgia Tech, frosh get one free change of major prior to earning 60 credits, except into ME, ISYE, Music Technology.

Other Georgia public universities with some engineering majors include UGA, GSU, and KSU.

But still $50K/yr for 4 years (engineering is not 3 years), so not in budget for the OP

Did you consider Olin?