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


Olin is an awesome option. Most kids have similar stats to hers and it is a great location and very collaborative. Plus much less expensive than many schools.

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I’m going to second the Miami of OH and University of Arizona recommendations, as these will make good safety schools for oos. Both offer large merit scholarship programs and will be less urban for your D22. Miami has the Presidential Fellows Program, which is a full ride with $5000 educational stipend, and large automatic merit awards. Arizona also has large automatic merit awards and special full rides for NMSF. Hope this helps!

Be very clear with her that although you are letting her apply to big name schools, you won’t be able to afford it unless she secures outside merit aid. It is tough for everyone when a kid gets into a school that they deserve to go to but the parents can’t afford it.

Many in the National Merit forum seem very happy with UTD. USC (California) is in a big city but I would add it to the list of schools that give out some very competitive full tuition scholarships. The engineering school, Viterbi, is small and is approximately 50% women. Women in Engineering – USC Viterbi | Undergraduate Admission

If your daughter is interested in casting a wide net for scholarships, perhaps consider the University of Maryland College Park, where all freshman applicants who are admitted to the Honors College are further considered for merit scholarships, including their “top prize”, Banneker/Key Scholarship. A full BK covers tuition and room-and-board (can worth as much as $50,000 yearly for an OOS). Must apply EA (November 1 ??); no additional application material is needed for these scholarships.

Vanderbilt, Rice, and Duke all have potential full tuition scholarships. You said engineering but NY is far away… Clarkson in Potsdam, NY has a full tuition scholarship and is one of the best undergraduate degrees in the country. University of Rochester or Rochester Institute of Technology may also be worth looking into if she’s okay going farther away.

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With the family in greater Atlanta area its hard to beat GaTech for free in terms of money. If OP is not qualified for FA at MIT or HYPS that means family income is above $280k. In an affordable housing area like Atlanta OP will have some luxury in deciding whether $200k extra would be worth it for a school name like MIT or Princeton. Ultimately, it will be about what OP’s D really wants to do— is it just engineering/CS as a career or is there other ambitions. Typically, kids who can make it to HYPSM will be a top student anywhere, but are unlikely to be content with being an engineer all their lives. Most of them will want to be in the management or launch their own startups, which means school prestige/connection could make a difference. When a twenty year old asks for $2m to start a company VCs will pay close attention to pedigree as well as engineering ideas.
Hopefully, there will be other choices like Duke/Emory/Rice/Vandy/other schools with rich merit scholarships that make the total cost even less, perhaps down to zero.


@lkg4answers keep in mind that most of the generous outside scholarships also have a need component. This family is not low income and wouldn’t qualify.

This student will have a lot of affordable and good options especially if she gets NMF status, and keeps an open mind!

If she is absolutely positive she wants engineering, and doesn’t want to be near a big city, Rose Hulman is another school to consider. But it’s sort of unique and not for everyone.


We don’t make nearly that much, but there are considerations in addition to income that determine FA. In any event, it doesn’t make matter how much we make or don’t make. We have a budget of $20K per year for undergrad, and we are not expecting any need-based aid. If we have to incur debt for a big name school, I would much rather it be for post-graduate work.

And to all of the posters above, my daughter is well aware of this. We have talked very openly about our budget, and we have talked about the odds of her being able to attend MIT (and to a lesser extent Notre Dame). She knows that she needs merit aid, and she is aware of the process and the odds. And we both believe that she will have several good options at the end of the process.

It helps that my daughter has another really high achieving student at her high school who is in the same situation. She just found out that he is also refusing to incur debt to fund his college education so he will also be chasing merit aid. They will have each other through the process.


Presumably, she realizes that MIT would be a double-reach: a reach to get into MIT and a reach to get a large enough outside merit scholarship that will bring the net price down to $20k or less?

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Thank you. If we find the right school and it is far away, that won’t stop my daughter from attending. She would like to stay close to home (not too close - ha!), but it’s not a requirement. We look at location as a preference.

I think that is one of the things that she loves about Clemson. It’s less than 2 hours from our house, but it feels like another world. Clemson is fairly rural, and there is no mistaking it for Atlanta.

Have you looked at University of New Mexico. Excellent engineering, and very under the radar screen. They have excellent merit aid for high achievers and NMF.

@WayOutWestMom can elaborate.

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Yes. We don’t plan to have her apply to many (or even any other) schools that don’t offer merit aid, but she wants to apply to MIT. She knows that the chances of her attending are practically zero, but she still wants to try. If she only wanted to target schools that offered need based aid, we would redirect her. Applying to MIT is something that is important to her, and it’s her time and effort that will be going into the application. She’s worked so hard up until this point so I am not going to discourage her from applying to one reach school - both in terms of admission and affordability. Having said that, we have had a very honest conversation about both getting in and money. And who knows? She may change her mind when the time comes to actually complete her applications. Until then, it’s staying on our list.


Thank you. It’s on our list. Another poster recommended it above. I am making a spreadsheet of every school that has been mentioned, and I plan to start researching each one over the coming weeks and months.

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Keep in mind that a doctoral program in engineering or anything science related is going to be funded. So if that’s the direction she’s heading in, you won’t need to take on debt for post-grad.

Law school- yes. Those students have loans.

Honestly, I don’t think MIT is on the radar. They are not known for giving merit aid and she is going to be among others with similar stats. She has great stats. Why not focus on places where she will shine and they are more likely to give her merit aid? I’d also agree with another poster above. If you are high income in the eyes of most schools and have arbitrarily set up 20K as the number then your expectations might not be met. That’s naturally only something you would know. But you can figure out what most schools would give you by looking at the calculations for each.
IMO, some schools are worth more than others. Also the thinking that if she attends a good to very good school and then spending the additional money on graduate may/many not work out in your favor. Some students apply to Phd programs from top undergrad programs and have their Masters paid for, others work in between. A lot can happen.
I hope she gets a great merit package. She sounds really stellar.

$20k a year isn’t going to get her too far out of state. But I know of a few good schools. U of AZ and U of AL are two good ones mentioned. Also, she could very likely get a full tuition scholarship from three Texas private schools…Baylor, TCU, and SMU. The 20k could easily cover the rest. TCU and SMU might be a bit urban for her taste. Baylor, might meet her criteria, since there’s only 16k students and Waco is quite a bit smaller and more friendly than the DFW area.

@Dis3456 [quote=“thumper1, post:52, topic:2811339”]
Have you looked at University of New Mexico.

If the student doesn’t like large universities and urban environment, then she probably won’t like UNM. While its 16K undergrads make it smaller than many major state Us, it is an urban campus–though there are plenty of green spaces, trees and the architecture is mostly low–2 or 3 stories. And ABQ is not exactly DFW or Atlanta. Two National Forests with plenty of outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, rock climbing, etc) are less than 20 minutes away by car or city bus.

UNM’s engineering is very good though as @thumper1 mentioned, but an “under the radar” kind of place.

UNM Scholarships–

If you D would consider Rose Hulman and want a smaller school experience, she might want to look at both Colorado School of Mines (located in Golden, CO, which is close to Denver but definitely suburban not urban and close to lots of wild spaces and the Coors Brewery) and New Mexico Tech (located in Socorro, NM–small town, well away from urban areas. Shares its campus with the NRAO.)

Mines isn’t especially generous with scholarship money, but NMT has a competitive scholarship that offer both tuition reduction (to instate rates) plus merit on top that. Amount of merit offer depends on GPA.

NMT tuition, fees and housing/meals is under $17K/year instate.

Tech is very well known to engineering grad programs and has an excellent grad placement rate.

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Thanks and yes I realize that. I had a top kid searching for merit aid last year. We stated upfront what we could afford and what we couldn’t. We allowed her to apply to top schools as long as she applied for outside merit scholarships. It is a lot of work but top kids who write well can bring in quite a bit of money through private scholarships. It is not enough to cover MIT for four years but every bit helps.

The difficult conversation is going to be deciding between a full tuition scholarship at one school vs full pay at MIT (the dream school). As a parent, you realize that the chance of acceptance at MIT is slim but if she is accepted and it is her dream and you don’t have the money, then what?

I think there can be some value in letting the dream play out. My S21’s dream school was U Chicago. It was his #1 love and he applied EA. As he went through the process, he realized other schools might be better fits for him, and when those schools start to show some love through scholarship offers and “Please choose me” emails, the emotions start to shift. As long as the student has realistic expectations about what the outcome will be if the price tag comes back at $80k/year, I think applying to those dream schools can be a healthy part of the process.