Help me find schools for my son who wants to go away from home


  • State/Location of residency: upper midwest
  • Type of high school: public
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity (optional): white male

Intended Major(s)
Undecided, looking at engineering or possibly computer science

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 4.0
  • Weighted HS GPA (incl. weighting system): 4.4-ish (only AP and selected other classes get weighted)
  • Class Rank: top 1% of ~500
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 33 composite, hasn’t taken ACT

(AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes, AP/IB scores for high school; also include level of math and foreign language reached and any unusual academic electives; for transfers, describe your college courses and preparation for your intended major(s))
Total of 10 AP’s by end of senior year, all 4’s and 5’s on AP tests so far.

National Merit Semifinalist (expected based on leaked cutoff scores)
AP Scholar With Distinction
Multiple school academic awards
Multiple school theater awards

Theater, National Honor Society, Student Ambassador, volunteers at numerous high school activities, works part-time as lifeguard, member of several other clubs as well

Essays and letters of recommendation should be good to excellent but I’m not objective in that regard.

Cost Constraints / Budget
Parents willing to pay up to $20-25K per year out of pocket. We will have multiple kids in college for most of his time there. We’re willing to consider other financing options for reach schools.


  • Safety (certain admission and affordability)
    University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska

  • Likely (would be possible, but very unlikely or surprising, for it not to admit or be affordable)
    Texas A&M, Florida State University

  • Match
    University of Florida

  • Reach
    Stanford, UC Berkley, UC Irvine, University of Southern California, University of Miami

*Not sure if Miami and UC Irvine are reaches from an admission standpoint but we’d probably need a miracle to be able to get them within budget.

My son really wants to go far away from home, so his safety schools are likely last resort type of schools. He’s really looking for the big school experience, he looked at a couple of smaller schools and they left him wanting. He’s not really interested in the northeast or midwest but hasn’t totally ruled other parts of the country. Would prefer to be in or close to a major urban area.

The ideal goal is to get a big merit package to a very good school (primarily to stay within budget) but if one of the uber-reach schools are a legitimate possibility then we would consider extending the budget and/or taking out loans.

So I know this is somewhat vague, but any ideas on other schools that might be of interest that we aren’t thinking of? I’d like to get some other schools on his radar (if there are any) before he starts the application process.

(Also at the schools on our list, is my son’s profile competitive in terms of getting full-tuition/full-tuition plus types of scholarships?)

Thanks in advance!

Merit awards for stats in past have been found at Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State( apply for honors programs at these, may have stipends, free housing, other benefits) , also Univ. South Carolina.

See Stamps Scholars colleges, LSU, a couple others, may have full rides.


Please define your state - upper midwest is not a state. Or put it this way - your stay flagship is likely a good place to start.

Test is 33 - so you mean hasn’t take SAT?

So you want to hit the NMF schools - USC, for example, is a half scholar - and it won’t get you there. However, we don’t know your EFC - so perhaps you’d get more need aid.

Your cheapest publics by auto merit will be U of Arizona and Florida State (not auto merit but you’ll get an OOS waiver). Other inexpensive will be UAH, Ms State, Alabama, Auburn, U of SC, Arkansas, and Arizona State. Your son would do great in their Honors Colleges - U of AZ has an unreal dorm (with dining hall/gym/counseling services) and ASU and U of SC are well thought of. Many today hype Kansas State and Iowa State so perhaps with scholarships, they get you there. Want to get real creative? South Dakota School of Mines (in a gorgeous area) and Wyoming would hit your budget. My daughter is at College of Charleston at full OOS waiver - I can walk you through privately how that happened because after merit it was $22K - but then it kept going lower and lower.

In regards to private schools, you can look at Bradley and Hofstra - not sure if you can get to your amount but they’ll tell you up front what you’ll get.

Then you can look at schools that meet need - and that’s what I don’t know - if you have need as a college would determine. You should go on a net price calculator- say Stanford, Case Western, and Rice - just to get an idea.

You may find some top schools like Rice, Case Western, Vandy etc. give you a great offer and some schools like Vandy and WUSTL offer full scholarships, hard to get but maybe worth a hail mary. W&L also has the Johnson (10% of students get it - it’s a full ride) and other tuition only scholarships. SMU also has full rides - granted these typically go to URMs.

That’s just an early list.

Looking at your list:

UMN is more a likely than a safety. UNL is a safety.

I don’t believe A&M and Florida will come close to your #. You are OOS - and I believe Florida eliminated the full ride for NMF and it’s now $500 although someone can correct me.

The two UCs - take off - you won’t get aid. USC - depending on your EFC - because if you don’t get aid, you’d be $55K with the scholarship so take that off.

U of Miami same - although they have some (few) full ride - but your son would be unlikely to get. Worth a shot though if you haven’t used all your common app spots. In general, to get big merit, you need to be better than the average - so at a USC and a Miami, you’re just another kid - as good as the kid is.

Stanford - unlikely - but i’d say that to anyone - but the 33 is a bit low - and you know, they have the best of the best go. It’s worth an app tho.

btw - lots of LACs have great merit - 2nd tier like Beloit, Kalamazaoo, etc. and then others will meet full need. See the list I attached.

Good luck.

Here’s Every College That Offers 100% Financial Aid (


UC’s will come in at nearly triple your budget. There’s no need-based aid for OOS, and the only merit awards are a few thousand dollars for Regents, which won’t make a dent even if he gets them.

USC is worth a shot for their NMF awards, but most recipients get half tuition which will still leave your out of pocket at double your budget. Worth a try to get the full tuition award, though.

Cal Poly would run more like $45K/year - still way over budget but better than $65 for a UC.

He would get great merit offers from other flagships like U of Arizona, ASU Barrett, U of Utah. The question is whether he’ll prefer any of the big-merit flagships to your in-state option. Minnesota is an excellent school for engineering/CS.

Northeastern gives a nice merit award for NMF - I believe it’s $30K/year unless it has changed - but that will still leave close to 40K net cost. A good value for terrific engineering and CS programs if he likes the co-op model. (Although many schools offer co-op options.)

If you qualify for need-based aid, then it’s a different story. You seem to be implying that you don’t, and will need to get to your price point via merit awards, correct?


We are not expecting any significant need-based aid based on our current EFC. It’s possible we might get some need-based aid at a school that covers 100% simply because we have multiple kids in school.

The reason our state is unimportant (and I would like to maintain a level of anonymity here) is that our son isn’t staying in state nor interested in schools that have reciprocity with our state. We did look at WUE but for the most part they weren’t schools he was interested in.

We have looked at net price calculator so we have a good idea of EFC, which is why we’ve said that if he got into a reach school and really wanted to go there, we’d discuss other financing options.

FSU and A&M are on the list because our understanding is that they provide out-of-state tuition waivers and scholarships for national merit finalists.

We expect Minnesota to be a safety because my oldest child got accepted there (and admitted to the honors college) with a similar academic profile.


For the most part, the award at the ultra reach schools is simply getting in. He will get no aid at Stanford or the UCs. No school is worth blowing up your family finances, no matter how attractive the name. Sorry for being so blunt, but with a high EFC, and that budget, you really need to rethink your strategy.


Good point on your state - so if you’re looking at WUE, you’re actually not in the midwest - well unless you’re in a dakota.

As noted - FSU will be an OOS waiver. But UF will not hit your budget, even with NMF, starting this year. It will be about $20-22K all in (FSU, not UF).

Arizona will come similar in price to FSU - actually a big less.

Look at UAH (Alabama Huntsville) and Alabama for great aid as well and then the other schools I mentioned.

No point in your applying to schools where you can’t hit your # - the UCs, UF, etc.

Good luck.

Without being too specific, we’ve run the numbers for Stanford and if he got in, we would potentially being able to swing it with our EFC. It’s not so outrageous that we would have to say no immediately.

We have been pretty clear that the UC’s are almost certainly out of budget because of the lack of financial aid.

USC is shooting our shot at one of the NMF full-tuition scholarships, same with Miami, knowing that the chance of either of those coming through are small.


For a big school expereince in an urban area UMinn sounds like a great fit.


Would your EFC go higher at some point while he’s in school because of siblings?

WVU would probably work. They have a cost matrix on their website.

Maybe UT Knoxville, Oklahoma, UT Dallas or Kentucky. What about Ohio State or Michigan State? UT Dallas used to have auto merit for NMSF.

Texas A&M has gotten to be ultra competitive to reach the scholarship level needed for reduced tuition. Same with UMiami. All in the last 3 years.

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Our EFC won’t go up until he’s a senior.

We did look at UT-Dallas and it wasn’t a fit. I may see if he’d give Oklahoma or Kentucky another look.

No interest in the Bama schools - UAH (mid size), Alabama?

How about Arizona - Tucson is gorgeous, school is great, and it’s going to be your best price. You get $35K off.

Don’t forget, many public schools - including UMN - have surcharges on CS and engineering majors.

With these schools too - Bama, Az, FSU - you have huge geographic diversity - many northeasterns - all chasing the $$.

Lots go to Ms State too.

UK was another good suggestion as was WVU. In that vein, how about U of Cincinatti (with merit) or Ohio U - they have solid merit.

App State is another school that might work with merit.

Really a ton of great opportunities to hit the # Good luck.

University of New Mexico would very much be within your budget and it’s away from home. @WayOutWestMom what do NMF get from this school?


NMF get a true full ride, including tuition, fees, housing and meals.

The scholarship is good for 4 years, and requires taking 15 credits/semester and maintaining a 3.3 GPA.

Also, even if your son doesn’t make NMF, he’d still qualify for the LUE Plus Scholarship which would give him instate tuition. Or the Amigo Scholarship which would give him instate tuition, plus $200/year stipend. (Both are auto-awards)
NM tuition, fees, housing & meal will come in under $20K/year.

ABET accredited engineering, definitely NOT the upper midwest.


Just to clarify, the USC Trustee full-tuition scholarships are not related to National Merit. If admitted, a NMSF is guaranteed a half-tuition Presidential scholarship. There is a chance that they will be awarded the Trustee scholarship but NM doesn’t come into play when determining who receives the Trustee scholarship.


Thanks! I think I already knew that but wasn’t clear in my response, although we have so many schools on our list right now it’s hard to keep track.

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Quick update, it looks like Arizona State may be on the list now. University of Florida is out. He still wants to apply to UC schools although we’ve made it clear they’re out of reach financially. I’m still trying to talk him into considering Alabama because of the package but he’s worried the school will be too “southern”. (even though it has a huge out-of-state population)

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Since he seems intent on giving CA a shot - I’d give LMU and USD a shot. Both nice so-cal privates that are likely to offer enough merit aid to make them appealing.

good luck

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Just a quick note about Northeastern - they are eager to offer merit aid to highly qualified students. They recruited my nephew - who was from Chicago - with a full ride including study abroad. He turned down MIT engineering to go there, was very happy and graduated 100% debt free with his college fund intact. Not that MIT wouldn’t have been life changing (as Comp Sci goes, it’s one of the best if not The Best), but he’s happy with his degree from NE. It’s a 5 year program with 2 paid coops, so it works well for non-liberal arts degrees (like engineering, business, design, etc.).

As for Comp Sci, if your son is interested in Silicon Valley, I’d give serious thought to schools in Northern Cal or the Northwest. Easier to get internships in the big tech firms, from what I know.