Current parent of full-pay kid with merit aid who applied ED, so maybe I can answer some questions. Yes, Denison is reasonably generous with merit aid, and that is particularly appealing to full pay families like mine. Merit awards vary between, I believe, roughly $16k and $27k a year, and we were impressed with the generous conditions of the award – a 3.0 at the end of sophomore year, and even if that is not met, then the student drops down a tier in merit rather than loses it completely – at least when my kid was admitted. It is important to read the fine print, as some EA merit awards my kid got before his ED2 acceptance at Denison specified that the award required a specific gpa by the end of first year or disappeared altogether. While we all like to think our highly capable kids will flourish and of course meet a minimum gpa, it was a relief to know there was time to ease in to college and that, even if it was a bumpy transition, the consequences were not so dire at Denison.
And yes, everything we have heard officially and unofficially is that merit aid is the same at ED and RD stages, including full pay families. My kid was predicted, as an ED2 applicant, to qualify for a range of merit and came in at the high end. We talked with other families who had also been predicted a certain merit award, considered whether to apply ED, then applied RD, and got the exact same merit as predicted for ED. Denison does not seem, at least now, to use merit just at the RD stage, but rather as a tool for all families to use in deciding, whether to apply ED or RD. As a full pay family, we did worry while waiting for the merit decision, because there was not a financial need reason to walk away from ED acceptance because we had not even applied for financial aid. But, we felt that we had frank conversations with Admissions reps about what the minimum merit award would be for ED2, and knew that we could make it work if the merit award came in at that level. The higher award was just icing on the cake and cause for celebration.
For what it’s worth, applications were up significantly again this year, we hear. Denison is really quite an amazing school, still under valued and under appreciated, in our minds. My kid has had incredible professors, mentors, and opportunities, in a warm, diverse, community where kids really engage across difference. It may not be the right, or best school for everyone – no place is – but it has been phenomenal for my kid.