Small LAC in NE or Midwest with great merit for strong, humanities-loving, musical student

(Filled out by a mom of a senior)

Large, urban, diverse, special admit magnet high school in Philadelphia
White, Jewish, female
4th generation Harvard legacy (but crazy long shot getting in, so only lightly considering applying)

Not planning to declare major Freshman year. Would prefer a more open curriculum to requirements. Would prefer seminar-like learning environments. Loves academic, meaty discussions with peers, but is not competitive or pretentious about academic achievement. Loves humanities, particularly philosophy and religion. Also loves literature and sociology. No interest in math or science. Very little career focus currently.

3.88 unweighted
4.3 weighted
1460 SAT
ranked 24/610 (top 4%)

All IB classes Jr and Sr yrs (All grades A). AP French freshman year (grade A), AP World History sophmore yr (grade A). Total of 12+ weighted courses.
Fluent French
Proficient Spanish
IB math Jr yr. No math Sr yr.

National Honors Society

Deep and varied extracurriculars in performing arts (violin school orchestra, jazz combo, city youth orchestra, musical theater, writes and produces own music, assistant director children’s theater, leads musical services at synagogue)
May be the president of large school orchestra (waiting to find out)
Young Democrats Club leadership role
Work: babysitting, social media marketing for women’s artist collective organization.
Volunteering in school: leads the senior-freshman mentoring program, tutors French, fundraises for orchestra)
Volunteering outside of school: various synagogue functions and assists children’s programming

Very strong essay writer. Common Ap essay reflects on childhood, particularly her middle school years which were self-directed homeschooled years spent backpacking on a shoestring budget all over the world.

LOR’s: school orchestra director (4 yr relationship), Rabbi (4 yr relationship), IB Philosophy teacher (2 yr relationship)

Cost Constraints / Budget
Can afford around 20K/yr (tuition plus room/board). FAFSA forecaster EFC is 23K. Up to 25 possible but not easily or without loans. Very much hoping she won’t have loans to pay back for undergrad (she is not focused on making much money and will likely go to grad school). Very much hoping for good merit. Will also qualify for some need aid. Family of 5 on one public school teacher’s salary with some home equity and modest 529’s for 3 kids.

Looking for suggestions for additional schools. This is our current list with our NPC’s. This list is a mix of schools she likes, schools that had “better” NPC’s than others, and schools that appear to be good merit matches for her based on website info even if the NPC wasn’t low enough. We’ll apply EA to any that allow it. Not planning any ED.

  1. Smith, 31K
  2. Mt. Holyoke, 39K (possible merit)
  3. Dickinson, 28K (possible merit)
  4. *Harvard, 11K (we know this is crazy, legacy, applying out of tradition)
  5. Lafayette, 36K (less-likely merit?)
  6. Beloit, 31K (likely merit)
  7. Oberlin, 37K, (possible merit)
  8. Grinnell, 25K (7K stackable outside scholarships)
  9. Ursinus, 41K (likely good merit)
  10. Albright, 29K (possible full scholarship, other merit)
  11. University of Richmond, 30K (possible merit?, music)
  12. St. John’s (merit)
  13. Pitt, 35K (merit)
  14. Temple (good merit and live at home, fallback school in the unlikely event that we have a big change/losses in our finances)

Appreciate the feedback!!!

As she’s open to women’s schools, Bryn Mawr? Merit tops out at 40K.

Swarthmore is probably more intense than she’d like and is a reach for all. But it does have a few full tuition scholarships for students from certain counties in PA. Might be worth checking out.

Maybe run the numbers at College of Wooster? IIRC there are music merit scholarships there as well as academic merit but I’m not sure if it would get you to your budget.

Ohio Wesleyan has generous merit - I don’t know about its music programs.

Denison has a few full tuition awards, highly competitive.


Best of luck!


I would second Kenyon. My daughter is a sophomore, a humanities major, very involved with music there (two instruments), as well as theater. Loves it.

They give pretty good merit aid these days, it seems.


I think Knox College might be a fit for your requirements and I think they have additional talent scholarships for music as well.


Several of the schools on your list were on D20’s. Just curious why you didn’t include Muhlenberg as it ticks a lot of boxes.


Yes, they do. Kenyon and St. Olaf offer music scholarships, too. St. Olaf stacks academic and music scholarships up to 50% of the COA.

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Your daughter seems like she might be an excellent fit for Kenyon’s IPHS program, which offers many of the benefits of a humanities core curriculum while being entirely optional: Integrated Program in Humane Studies | Kenyon College.

If you were to consider philosophy as representative of discussion-based intellectual engagement, then some of these suggestions may be of interest:


I defer to others with more experience on merit stacking with need-based aid, but it will be important to drill down to understand the interplay between merit and need-based aid generally and at specific schools. At many private schools, tuition is often between $55-65k, with room and board another $10-15k. While 1/2 tuition merit awards can be found which would reduce cost of attendance to about $40k, bigger merit awards are hard to find, and get. And at many schools, merit does not “stack” with need-based aid to bring down the cost of attendance below the EFC. Some schools will use merit awards to reduce loans or work study components of a need-based package, but my understanding is that merit does not generally get that EFC lower than what the school says it is. So “chasing merit” (which we definitely did for my LAC kid), is more complicated. Again, I defer to those families who were looking for a combination of need and merit aid, as my experience is as a full pay family (without full pay resources).


Regarding finances, this site offers an especially convenient complement to NPCs:

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In regards to @Midwestmomofboys’s very valid comment, our experience was that different LACs use different formulas. Some gave us lots of merit but no need-based aid, other than loans/work-study, others combined the two. They didn’t really stack them, but in most cases, the final COA was 5k-10K lower than what we got from the NPC (while merit/talent awards ranged from 20 to 32K). Not a huge difference but not insignificant.

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Luther College. Small LAC in Iowa. Good merit. Generous with aid. Good music program. Some interesting programs that you don’t find other places. First-year seminar (Paideia) is Humanities based. It seems to fit all of her preferences and she can stack a merit and music award.

It is a Lutheran school, but tends to attract nice, progressive, live your own life students. There is a religion requirement of 2 classes (one in biblical studies), but the topics are very broad and diverse, for example, Sex in the Bible and Qu’ran.

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U of Rochester? On CC it’s more well-known for pre-medy stuff, but I know from firsthand experience that they have fantastic humanities departments (esp classics/religion/archaeology). Open curriculum, small class sizes, very academic. Ofc depends on EFC.

Not sure what the requirements for all the schools on her list are, but check to make sure none of them require 2 LoRs from core teachers (English, math, science, social studies, fl)—IIRC Oberlin does, so she’d need an additional one even if philosophy counts as core at her school.


I think you should check out Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin! We visited 5 years ago and really liked it then. They have a conservatory of music so many students either participate or enjoy watching their friends perform. They have another location on Lake Michigan where some students go for different reasons (I don’t know the details). Seemed like a great school.


How about Shenandoah or Susquehanna?

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Dickinson is on your list so why not Gettysburg? Many consider them peers and Gettysburg is one of few small LACs I think with a music conservatory.

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Beloit could be close to a free ride. Knox has multiple stacked merit grants. Apply to those early. As suggested Lawrence would be great also…

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Also Illinois Wesleyan could be interesting.

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Illinois Wesleyan has cut several of its humanities programs recently, unfortunately, favoring more in-demand majors, like nursing or business. So, it’s becoming not a great place for humanities-oriented students. There were quite a few online articles about it last year, in case people want to learn more.

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Yes I am aware of it but they seem to be change their tune a lot. I would still investigate it to see if their adding back if not then yes probably not the best option and it’s really a shame…

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Not sure how far from home your daughter is willing to go, but have you thought about Rice in Houston, TX? Although it’s a T20 national university, the size (4000 students) and undergrad focus are more like an LAC than a big research school. Academically, Rice has a program in Religion and Public Life ( that conducts social science research on the interaction between religious belief/practice and larger cultural issues - D22 is interested in getting involved in research there. Student life is organized around a house system similar to Yale, where every student is placed randomly into a residential college with its own facilities and traditions - there’s no Greek life.

Admissions-wise, your daughter sounds very similar to my D22 - from family of 5 needing a good bit of fin aid, strong ECs and interest in religion and music, no STEM interest at all. D22 has slightly higher stats, but your daughter is fluent in a second language and appears to have stronger leadership ECs, so I would think they might be similar overall applicants. Rice is becoming known nationally for elite programs in engineering and computer science, and the applicant pool is pretty heavy on the STEM side; people familiar with Rice have suggested to me that strong humanities kids like ours may get a bit of a longer look than the overall admit rate would suggest, but of course no guarantees. Rice is increasingly focusing on the ED round, which is tricky for those of us with financial aid needs, but they are also known to be generous and our NPC result there is actually $4k less than our FAFSA EFC. I’m pretty comfortable with going ED there from a financial standpoint (though D22 hasn’t made any final decisions and appears to be intentionally avoiding all college discussions right now).