LAC's with merit - is there a list somewhere?

This is a pretty elite list of meets needs schools and helpful info if you’re student is looking for a competitive SLAC with generous financial aid but no merit.

1 Like

This won’t answer the comprehensive list need. I keep thinking I’m sure there’s a reason it’s not made already since so many people would want it?

But have you been looking at the common data sets for each school. Almost all have published CDS (Dennison is an SLAC exception) for years going back with tons of information including middle range of GPA’s and test scores and if you scroll to section H2 and H2A, it will tell you the number of students who receive need-based and non-need based aid (merit) and the average award for each student. Look at the numbers both for first year and institution-wide to see if there’s a trend of students “losing” the merit awards. Here’s the link to the most recent CDS for Lewis and Clark. It shows that virtually every incoming 1st year received some aid (ie NONE paid full freight) Out of 511 incoming students last year, 326 were “deemed to have financial need” and all were given FA. Of those 89 were also given merit. The remainder of students (who were deemed to have no financial need) 184 in number, all were given merit with an average award of $25k+ This won’t tell you exactly how much money your kid stands to be offered there, but the NPC probably will give you a very close idea once you know there’s basically 100% chance she’ll get financial aid and or merit money. Lots of SLACs don’t give merit to that many students, but the CDS will tell you to how many. If it’s 5% you might not bother. If it’s 50% and your kid’s stats are much higher than the average it’s worth a good look. Some don’t give merit to anyone, but these generally “meet need” as they determine it and it’s often pretty generous especially with 4 kids in school. My son is starting at St. Olaf this fall and they are a rare combination of “meets needs” and they give merit to about 50% of students. His final cost as an anecdote, is about 75% of what the FASFA estimated our cost “should” be.

I found this was all a lot of work but worth it. The west coast and North East SLAC’s tend to have a higher bottom line than the midwest and south but not for every student. Good luck!

1 Like

What is a SLAC vs an LAC?

Small LAC. I confess I wasn’t using it with any technical precision.
I wonder, too and found Selective LAC

Bard College
Bryn Mawr College
Colorado College
Grinnell College
Haverford College
St. Olaf College
Vassar College

1 Like

Just looked it up and US News says most colleges in its Liberal Arts Ranking are under 2,500 students. So are SLAC’s even smaller? Just see this term used a lot on this board and never understood what it meant. Or if it means “selective” based on whose criteria? Clearly Amherst would be a “SLAC” but what about Gettysburg or Lewis & Clark?

Flagler in Florida.

To address the OP’s comment about not being able to find info on how many awards are offered at a college…

Many (most?) colleges that offer merit are secretive about how many scholarships they give. Some may not even specify how much their scholarships are worth. There are limited awards and a finite amount of cash available. Once they begin hearing back from students who won’t be attending, they might offer additional scholarships to students they hope to attract.

Both my kids were offered various merit scholarships at both private and public colleges. My daughter was accepted off a waitlist at an LAC and offered an annual merit award at that school. We are guessing she was pretty close to being accepted RD, then someone ahead of her turned down an offer. At one school, after my son completed additional essays, he was given substantial additional scholarships, along with a direct request to please notify if he wouldn’t be accepting, so they could offer someone else the money.

I’ve never parsed the terms and am not using them technically, but since you’ve asked I’ve reflected and realized that I personally have used SLAC for colleges that do not have any or hardly any post-baccalaureate presence, as distinct from colleges like the Ivies which don’t accept undergraduates into a particular major but do have robust and varied graduate schools. Lewis and Clark is both small and offers limited graduate degrees so in the world where I am queen, I’d call it a SLAC.

Hi - we were on the hunt for LAC merit aid for our high-stats (3.97 UW GPA, ‘full’ IB, NMF) D21 this year. Here is what we learned, echoing in some cases what others have posted:

  1. You will never find a list. Schools are very cagey about their merit aid.

  2. We learned just by searching individual school websites and emailing admissions (NOT financial aid) that merit aid starts around the T20s if you’re going by USNWR rankings but is highly geography-dependent. There is much more merit aid in the midwest and south than in the NE (other than for the women’s schools, which have good aid) or West Coast. IIRC, Grinnell is the highest-ranked LAC that gives merit aid (and lots of it – they have a huge endowment and need to draw people to Iowa).

  3. The Common Data sets are a great place to start, but even then they are only a guide. They are increasingly out of date even as more and more schools shift from merit to need-based aid. It’s a fast-moving target. Adcoms were very helpful: just reach out and ask.

  4. Half-tuition merit schollys are fairly common starting around the 20s in ranking, but the competition has gotten fierce for those. Smaller (often just token) merit is the norm starting in the 20s for schools not in the NE or CA.

  5. Full-tuition schollys are rare among T100 LACs, and when are granted, sometimes only to one or two students. I’ve decided that some schools dangle these out primarily as marketing ploy to increase their apps.

  6. If you’re willing to go beyond T100 National LACs and move into regional-ranked LACs, the full-tuition schollys get more plentiful and with a lower bar to entry.

I hope this helps someone else. I feel like I have a PhD in merit aid after this year – happy to share what I’ve learned.


This was exactly our experience, too, but with D20. Great summary.

1 Like

I would only add that some LACs offer “talent” fellowships (arts, creative writing, etc.), in addition to academic ones, and some stack them, but only to an extent (St Olaf, for example, has a limit of 50% of the COA).


@Lindagaf makes a great point. My daughter is enrolled for fall at C of Charleston, a sort of public liberal arts public school, well they say they are.

After she accepted, so don’t try this at home, she got another $9k added to her already somewhat aggressive offer. I believe if they have endowed monies that doesn’t get used, they have to provide to someone else. Sometimes it’s got your name on it.

You are correct. I wrote that about top 20 in an earlier post but don’t forget #9 in US News W&L which offers 10^% of its class the Johnson Scholarship which is full ride. Then they offer additional full tuition which is dependent on things such as where you live or are you Jewish. My daughter got in but no $$ but a decent chunk of kids there do very well.

Sorry: I didn’t know about W&L. Despite my attempts to get her to broaden her horizons, D21 categorically ruled out all southern schools (see username ;)), so I don’t know much about schools in the south.

Yes, the talent scholarships can stack on top of academic merit, although most of the schools we targeted had a merit cap of 50% of tuition (not even COA). And other than those earmarked for specific demographics (underserved urban or rural residents, specific ethnic- or religious-affiliated students, etc), the other only kind that we ran across that’s worth mentioning is the amorphous ‘leadership’ scholarship.

D21 was also a recruited athlete, which further complicated and limited our search. And while athletic scholarships are of course verboten in D3, one coach told us that she would be a strong candidate for a leadership scholarship for being such a ‘leader’ in her sport (wink, wink).

So, we learned that other than the scholarship caps, which really are hard stops, schools have broad latitude in granting merit, and the process is very opaque. Merit hunting + athletic recruiting = lots of grey hairs for me this year.


I can imagine. Where did your daughter end up going, if you don’t mind sharing?

If it helps look at where the kids come from. Rich north easterners. It’s not for everyone but free is often enticing!!

Many southern schools…Tampa, Miami, Elon for example, are loaded with kids from the North.


I won’t say publicly but will PM you. I will say that the school where she thought she was headed (great LAC, highly ranked in her sport, she got their top 50%-of-tuition scholly) turned out to be a bust. We weren’t able to tour it in person until this spring because of COVID, after she had already fallen in love with the coach and school and it was too late to apply anywhere else.

The gap between the gorgeous ivy-covered buildings and leafy campus in the virtual tours and the reality (SUPER small, geographically isolated, and claustrophobic) was just too wide. She was so disappointed after the tour. So, parents: don’t trust those virtual tours! Nothing can replace an in-person visit.

Instead, she’s going to one of her ‘safety school’ and where she got a full-tuition scholly, which her parents think is great but she’s not excited about because it’s not as highly ranked a school, has a more regional draw, and is not quite as strong in her sport than where she thought she was going.

It’s been a tough spring and a bitter pill to swallow for her since so many of her friends are going to Ivys, NESCACs, etc: the places we wouldn’t let her apply since we weren’t going to pay 80K a year. We’re hoping she’ll love it once she gets there, which I think will almost certainly happen. And then she gets to keep all her 529$ for grad school, for which she’ll thank us someday. And if she’s really not happy there, we’ll reassess next year.


You are exactly right. She will make her life. Not the school. Congrats to her and your retirement which you can now find easier :). Nice if you to give the $ to her but you’ll spend it…food, study abroad, dorks, etc.

1 Like