Public Colleges Offer Merit Scholarships to Recruit Students
Finding and using merit aid has become increasingly important for students and families looking to make college more affordable. In this article, we'll discuss merit aid, how to find and apply for it, and the different types of merit aid available.
Whether you're a high school student or already in college, this guide will provide valuable information to help you reduce your college costs and avoid taking on extensive student loan debt.
What is a Merit Scholarship?
A merit-based scholarship is a type of financial aid that's awarded to students based on their talent and achievements rather than their financial needs. Merit scholarships can come from colleges, universities, foundations, corporations, or private organizations.
How Merit Scholarships Work
In general, merit-based scholarships can be used to cover tuition, fees, books, housing, and other expenses. The eligibility criteria and application process for merit scholarships vary significantly. But to apply, you'll typically need to submit transcripts, test scores, an essay, or even a portfolio demonstrating your achievements in a specific area.
Athletic scholarships work a little differently. Coaches or recruiters from a college or university will evaluate your performance and skills. Then they will offer you a scholarship if they believe you have the potential to contribute to the team's success.
Some merit scholarships are renewable for multiple years, provided the recipient maintains a certain grade point average or continues to meet other required criteria.
Where Do You Find Merit Scholarships?
There are a few different sources of merit scholarships. They include:
Government agencies: Some government agencies, such as the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, offer merit-based scholarships.
Professional associations: Many professional associations offer scholarships to students pursuing careers in their field. So if you're interested in studying subjects like engineering, medicine, or law, you should be on the lookout for these types of opportunities.
Colleges and universities: Many colleges and universities offer merit scholarships to attract talented students to their campuses. You can usually find school-specific scholarship information through their admissions or financial aid office.
Additionally, for state residents, public universities offer the most reasonably priced route to a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, plenty of affluent non-residents are attracted to popular state research universities, such as the ones listed below. Reasons why include their academic reputation, desirable geographic location, and sports teams.
- Ohio State University
- Penn State University
- University of Arizona
- University of California at Berkeley
- University of California at San Diego
- University of Colorado
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of Virginia
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin
For non-residents, however, some of the most popular public institutions will meet or even exceed the price tags of private colleges and universities. With state costs differing, the best way to shrink the cost of state universities is to find institutional merit scholarships, which are awarded regardless of financial need.
5 Things to Know About Merit Scholarships at State Universities
Here are five things to keep in mind about obtaining a merit scholarship from a state university:
1. Merit money is plentiful.
You don’t have to be a perfect student or an in-state resident to capture a merit award from many public universities. Across the country, public universities put a growing amount of money into merit scholarships for residents and outside students.
"Public flagship and research universities are in a fierce competition for the best students in the country and the wealthiest, and they are spending ever-increasing amounts of their institutional aid dollars on getting them,” observed Stephen Burd, author of a landmark study from the New America Foundation, entitled, The Out-of-State Student Arms Race.
“In this pursuit,” Burd added, “Public universities are not the only ones to blame. In many cases, state leaders have slashed spending on higher education, forcing their public institutions to scramble to find alternative revenue sources, making wealthy out-of-state students a prime commodity for cash-strapped schools.”
2. You need to understand what it takes to win a scholarship.
State universities rely heavily on academic statistics, such as SAT and ACT scores, grade point averages and class rank to determine who receives their merit awards. Universities make awards based on these academic figures because, with their high volumes of applications, admission officers don’t have the luxury of evaluating teenagers holistically.
The more impressive a student’s academic profile, the higher the award will usually be at a particular public college. Many state schools will provide full-ride or full-tuition scholarships for their top recruits. Small differences in test scores and/or GPA can make a significant difference in awards.
To illustrate this, I’m using the University of Alabama, which is one of the aggressive institutions in seeking out top students from across the nation.
An applicant with a 28 ACT and an SAT score of 1310-1340 with a GPA of at least 3.5 can earn a scholarship of $4,000 yearly at Alabama. Earn just one extra ACT point or 10 more SAT points and the award jumps to $13,000 a year. An ACT of 32 or an SAT score of 1450 will generate a top award of $36,950 a year.
Also, at the University of New Mexico, a non-resident can qualify for a $15,000-a-year scholarship by earning an ACT score of just 23 and a 3.5 GPA or a 26 ACT and a 3.0 GPA.
3. Look off the radar for state universities.
Just like private colleges and universities, public colleges and universities that enjoy great popularity with non-residents are more likely to price themselves accordingly. When looking at options, it’s smart to check the scholarship opportunities and sticker prices.
Here’s an example:
University of Virginia’s tuition and room/board for non-residents is $55,784. Only 2.4% of students at this premiere research university receive a merit scholarship, and the average amount is $7,100. For an outsider, the price for one year at UVA would be $48,684.
Let’s compare that with West Virginia University, where tuition and room/board for non-residents cost much less ($32,706). 17% of students receive merit scholarships, with the average award being $2,382. Winning an award would bring the price down to $30,269.
You can see this pricing phenomenon repeated throughout the country. For instance, the tuition cost to attend the University of Michigan as a non-resident is $45,410 versus the nearby University of Minnesota, not as popular a draw, which charges just $23,806. So it can pay to shop around.
4. Know where to look for scholarship requirements.
When hunting for a merit scholarship, it’s often easy to discover what it takes to capture one at a particular institution. You can typically check a school’s admission website to see what kind of SAT or ACT scores and GPAs are needed to get an award.
An easy way to find a school’s scholarship rules is to Google scholarships and the institution’s name. For out-of-state students, try Googling non-resident scholarships and the university's name.
5. Forget about need-based aid.
If you’re hoping to find a bargain at public universities outside your state, you should forget about need-based financial aid. It’s extremely rare for state universities to give outsiders financial aid.
States institutions direct need-based aid to their own residents. And even then, need-based aid, in general, has been shrinking as state universities spend a growing percentage of money on merit scholarships.
Final Thoughts on Merit Scholarships
Once you find a scholarship you want to apply for, it's important to research it carefully to avoid any scams and fully understand its eligibility requirements. Be sure to have a good handle on the application process and deadlines too.
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