Help me build a college list: top 1% student

OP I am trying to understand your priorities and goals.

Clearly you are prestige “aware” given your original list. You have similarly been clear that you are cost conscious given your demand for merit awards.

As you are undoubtedly aware most of the highly selective private schools while not offering merit awards are need blind and provide financial aid accordingly.

Is your financial situation such that you won’t be eligible for FA? If not do you prioritize prestige or price? Finding both is not impossible but extremely rare if you have financial resources that limit your access to FA.

As an example please take a close look at how selective and demanding the selection process is for the Robertson at Duke/UNC. It requires a ton of work and time and at the end produces an extremely small cohort of winners.

Trying to “carpet bomb” these sort of “unicorn” opportunities I fear will result in a lot of wasted effort and disappointment if not done thoughtfully.


Yes, OP took the first step by saying region/size but I’m not certain they have looked into Muslim organizations for each one and studied program, vibe. Note that mostly tippy tops made the initial cut. That deeper dive needs to happen and reality check filter applied. I felt my anxiety level rise just looking at the list and knowing all those scholarship programs were going to require even more research and essays. They are behind and need to catch up quickly.


Yes, yes this. OP, these applications are no joke and designed that way so there is self-selection.


Very important points. What are the priorities? If it is full-ride OP needs to be looking at a very different list where this applicant can stand out and get great merit. If the student wants to try for a couple of the unicorns, and has the time, great. Kevin, the dad in last year’s thread spent a ton of time doing the research and then stepped in and project managed the whole thing.

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Can you please point me to this thread from last year?

Here is the thread

And this one too…

I believe I linked both of those upstream.


While you asked someone else, the answer to this question is auto merit - which is why we’ve steered you to schools like Arizona (you’d get $30K vs. $38K tuition), Arizona State (you can calc merit), Florida State will be a OOS waiver - so tuition is like $7K, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Alabama, Alabama Huntsville…these all will tell you what you’ll get- and I understand as a muslim you want to be careful where you attend to ensure you find an inclusive environment. U of SC will be aggressive as will Miami of Ohio. USC will give you a half scholarship (not to be confused with U of SC). Washington & Lee is worth a reach because the Johnson Scholarship app is not arduous and you’d be a strong candidate.

You can check Hofstra and Bradleys websites - they will also tell you what you’ll get.

Many schools will give you merit…but these are some of those that will show you up front and may work budget wise for you.

But in essence, 2nd tier and 3rd tier schools will be your friend - and there are hundreds of fantastic ones. Hendrix, for example, and not saying the environment would be right (i don’t know) - is a fine college and has a program to match your in-state flagship university.

Good luck.


The University of South Carolina honors college application is a doozie. And it’s due pretty early….maybe the beginning of November? You need to check. It has multiple essays, and is a ton of work. We actually let our kid take a day off of school to complete it. She said…it was THE hardest application she did.

But the payoff can be a very good one (as it was for @KevinFromOC daughter).


Yes, @thumper1 provided.

If the priority is merit — and you still haven’t answered that— you need to be focused on different schools, including those with auto merit. Can this student afford Vanderbilt or UVA without the scholarships? If not, then the focus needs to be on schools where merit is assured or chances are very high. I fear this is heading to a situation where your student is accepted to x, y and z top school and can’t afford to attend.

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Regarding merit scholarships, this means that your reach/match/likely/safety assessment must be based on the scholarships, not admission.

  • Automatic merit scholarship for stats that the student has: safety if the net price after the scholarship is low enough.
  • Competitive merit scholarship: generally reach for larger merit scholarships.
  • No merit scholarship large enough to bring net price down enough: out of reach, not worth applying to.

That’s a good point. It’s hard to determine how to advise when we don’t know what the OPs budget is. If cost is not a factor and merit is just a “nice to have” that is one calculus - if merit (particularly a very high level of merit) is needed in order for the student to afford to attend, that’s a different question.

Here is where my daughter ended up applying:

Bama - should get 5 years tuition, 4 years housing, plus annual stipend
Mississippi State - full COA for 4 years
UCF - Close to full ride, not sure of exact details
UGA - Free tuition as in-state student
Georgia Tech - Free tuition as in-state student
TCU - full tuition merit scholarship available
SMU - full tuition merit scholarship available
Notre Dame - full tuition merit scholarship available
MIT - No merit aid, her stretch school
Clemson - full tuition merit scholarship available (very small number, 4 last year)
Small liberal arts schools that she does not want me to mention by name at this time - full tuition merit scholarship available

That is our list. I also have a thread for her search, and I have a huge list of recommended schools in there.

The list is in post 83.


Hi everyone! First of all, thank you for helping. I really appreciate your time and experience. It’s clearly my first time!

I’m revising the list.

I don’t believe we will qualify for aid. She wants to go to medical school, so it would be amazing if she got a merit scholarship for undergrad. She’s attracted to the Robertson/Jefferson, primarily because these are smaller cohorts of students who get individualized mentorship, great opportunities, etc. We understand it’ll be a lot of work to apply.
Here’s the revised list. Please comment freely…

School List:

Scholarships: (all are attached to a scholarship)
University of Virginia (Jefferson)
Duke (Robertson)
UNC Chapel Hill
Univ. of Maryland
Univ. of Pittsburgh
Univ. of Richmond

Merit Based:
George Washington Univ.
Emory University
Univ. of Miami
Add Case Western

National Merit NMSF
Univ. of Houston
Univ. of Texas at Dallas
Add a Florida School
Add one more automatic NMSF

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Has she started applying to any of these schools yet? Based on our search, many applications for merit aid are due soon (or by the EA deadline).

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If she likes the idea of a small scholarship cohort, look into FSU as your “Add a Florida School.” My NMF OOS child is a Presidential Scholar at FSU. The cohort size is 25 per class, and the app process is not that onerous. While the OOS Benacquisto scholarship is no longer available, other scholarships bring the tuition/room/board cost potentially down to $15,000 a year.

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Also check out Texas A&M. Full tuition to OOS NMF and she can apply to the Brown Scholars, which is an amazing cohort type scholarship. It’s quite diverse as well. There is a large Muslim community.

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Applications for that are due October 15. Texas A&M is one school where I wish my daughter applied but didn’t. They have 4 essays, and she ran out of steam.


That’s still a lot of schools and unless she wins the top scholarships will probably run $40-80k/year. Is that OK? We still haven’t seen a budget amount and OP said no FA.

If she applies to Pitt look at the GAP program for med school.

St. Louis U has a med scholars program that might be interesting. It’s a Catholic school but Jesuit if it matters.

Florida State and possibly USF or UCF might be options. S21 is at FSU with OOS waiver it’s $17k/year.

There are other schools outside the T20 where she would get lots of merit.


Can you name the other schools she would get merit?

Not without your budget. Is it $20k/year? $40k? $80k? That will determine where to look.

SMU might be a nice option. They offer a nice range of scholarships. Your D would probably get enough to put it around $40k/year (unless things have changed in the last year). Is that acceptable? They offer some full tuition scholarships but they are very competitive. If your D wins a President’s award that would be full tuition.