Help me build a college list: top 1% student

I’d love your help on adding some colleges to my daughter’s list.
She’d love a gorgeous campus (trees, traditional layout, etc.), on the East Coast, perhaps midwest, and ideally a small group (honors colleges, scholars programs, etc.) within a large institution. We are strictly applying to a few Ivies and the rest are schools that give merit. She’s pre-med, possibly a neuroscience major.
She’s a strong student, interesting EC’s, great community service, weighted GPA: 4.55 SAT = 1570, National Merit Semifinalist, no ranking in school but probably in top 3, if not the top.
Diversity is a must, non-sectarian school. Active MSA a huge plus (Muslim Student Association)

Here we go…

Ivies: Harvard, Princeton, Yale

All others:
Duke (Robertson Scholars Program)
UNC Chapel Hill (Robertson Scholars Program and Morehead Cain)
UVA (Jefferson Scholars)
William and Mary (1693 Scholars)
Wash U St. Louis (3 different scholars programs)
George Washington (merit aid available)
Emory (Scholars Program)
Univ. of Maryland (Banneker Key Program)
Univ. of Pittsburgh (Chancellor’s Award)
Univ. of Richmond (Scholars Program)

Which others would you suggest? I took off any college (except Ivies) that does not award merit aid. Thank you so much for helping!

Will you qualify for any need-based financial aid? Do you have a budget? What state are you in? It is hard to advise you without those pieces of information. Some of the merit awards you list (i.e. Morehead Cain) are extremely, extremely competitive - as are the schools themselves. Even the Pitt scholarship is only given out to 15 students. While your daughter sounds like a wonderful student, Harvard, Princeton and Yale turn down students just like her every year so you cannot count on an acceptance to any of them. Would any of these “merit” schools be doable on less than a full tuition scholarship - they all have awards that are less than the top ones you have listed here. There are also lots of less selective schools - Alabama, Arizona etc - where your daughter would definitely get their top award - are those of any interest or is she strictly seeking New England?


While she’s fantastic not all the schools are safe for $$. Pitt maybe a little unless a URM. U can add Chicago and Northwestern and further South Emory and Miami which might as well be Northeastern in geography…and Northeastern is another :). But again you are chasing brutally difficult to get merit…and many of them require a lot more work…like UVA…so I think u r overreaching.

You might add some, like USC (yes it’s West) for auto merit. Financially Bama and AZ are home runs. Rochester another.

Since you mention pre med and you have schools small and large, you might add u of SC Honors, Miami of Ohio Honors which hits what you are looking for…trees, etc…it’s a larger W&M…and while a bit more urban Case Western. W&L is a must when looking for high end and merit. The Johnson Scholarship and campus is gorgeous. U Florida is tops (ranked equally to UNC now) and you may get merit. Union, near Albany rates high for med school acceptance rates.

Don’t forget school is more than GPA and test score. How are the ECs etc.

And you want to look to schools with auto merit for NMF. You may say Bama…no way…south and too low ranked. Well it’s 60% OOS with a ton of Northeasterners and the most NMF in the country. They buy them in!!

Good luck.

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I would suggest you look at this thread. While some of your daughter’s things are different, there is some overlap. Perhaps you will get some good ideas.


If she is concerned about quality of life issues with respect to potential bigotry and the like, it may be worth finding the MSAs and similar student organizations at each campus and contacting them if they exist. Perhaps also pay attention to whether such organizations are primarily composed of undergraduate or graduate, domestic or international, or any particular versus all ethnic or national origin students.


I missed the MSA. When my daughter interviewed for the Weinstein Scholarship at W&L, they spoke about working hand in hand with their MSA.

They are using their wonderful Johnson scholarship to enhance diversity. It’s a full ride. So you might look there. You can see the professor’s name that you can write to in order to learn more.

Good luck.

Religious Life : Washington and Lee University (


Your daughter is aiming way too high (despite being impressive). I would look at:

Ohio State
U of South Carolina honors
U of Miami
NC State
Michigan State

There are more….


I would say it a bit differently. I think it’s fine for the OP to aim high for a few reaches, but needs a better set of safety and match schools. You provided a good potential list of those schools.


University of New Mexico offers a true full free ride to NM finalists. You might want to at least look at that one.

And I think it’s a guaranteed award @WayOutWestMom

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Yes I agree with you. I think some of these schools can be trimmed (and it’s a lot of work to do all of these essays) and in their place she can put a few safeties and matches.

It was not my intention to come off as harsh.

Is this student from Maryland? How much can the family pay?

I recommend a serious look at Vanderbilt, for a few reasons.

First, it is a great school in its own right, and if you insist on applying to HYP, it makes sense as the next tier of selectivity.

Second, among the top 20 schools it is the one most focused on stats, which I think makes it a lower reach compared to other top 20 schools.

Third, it has some excellent scholarship programs your D can apply for.

Fourth, Vanderbilt usually wins or ties (with Rice, another great school) for happiest students.


Thank you. I appreciate reality checks! I added U. of Miami. It looks great!


You are absolutely right! Vanderbilt added. :slight_smile: Thank you!


Look at the U of Rochester and see if they have any large merit awards. Also, GW does have full tuition awards so I would leave that one on the list. I would also keep Richmond.

Was your daughter nominated for Jefferson Scholars through her school?

Yes, she was!

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Just don’t forget all these schools. Vandy has the Cornelius Vanderbilt. WUSTL has theirs. The Jefferson at VA. each of these the work adds up…it gets to overwhelming if you have too many vs schools that have auto merit.


Congrats on the nomination! It’s a long and very competitive process, but also very exciting!

There is a lot of work involved- a lot. I would think about cutting this list a little unless she is really driven to complete it all. Add 1-2 auto merits. Has she started the essays?


What price point are you trying to hit with merit? Getting $30k at GWU ( not a tree lined campus) with $50k+ remaining, doesn’t help if you are trying to get to $20k. There are some very good midwestern LAC’s (Grinnell, Oberlin) that have a high likelihood of merit but it is likely in the 25-30k range.


Agree, my D21 underestimated the time it would take for some of the scholarship cycles for the full merit ones. She cut some by this point last year so she could focus on the ones that were the best fit if accepted. There are additional essays, prepping, interviews, group info sessions, and remember they expect the students to be genuinely interested in being there and engaged in the program. I think 3 to 4 is the most a student can really handle and keep things straight.

Some colleges have very limited merit if not selected and others have many of tiers of merit funds.

USC Honors In Columbia, SC may be a good match for premed and merit. They have a medical school and pharmacy school with undergrad internships and research opportunities. There is also a separate hospital downtown within walking distance of campus with options to internships. Freshmen we know already have internships focused on medical fields they are interested in - that is pretty great.


We still don’t know your budget? What are your in-state options? Hard to give advice. All the schools/scholarships on your list are reaches.

Even the Pitt Chancellor’s scholarship is highly competitive. My S20’s classmate won. His stats were higher than your daughter’s. He turned down Penn for Pitt.