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The Most Important Questions to Ask About Merit Aid

Merit-based financial aid can be a game changer for some students when it comes to paying for college. Here's what you need to know about it.

Merit aid is the best way for students from families of all income levels to reduce their tuition costs. Over $8 billion in merit aid is doled out by colleges annually. It’s the largest pool of renewable, non-loan money available to students who don’t qualify for need-based financial aid. If you’ve never heard of merit aid, never considered it, or think you may not qualify for it, you’re not alone. Here are the top questions you should be asking about merit aid.

What exactly is merit aid?

Merit-based aid and awards are used by colleges to recruit the best students. These students boost the school’s applicant stats and improve their rankings. Unlike loans, merit-based grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid and, in most cases, are renewable each year if you continue to meet certain academic conditions. There’s usually no separate application process for merit aid, and any award amounts will be included in your acceptance letter. Some highly elite schools don’t offer merit aid at all and only offer need-based financial aid. However, there are significantly more schools to choose from that do offer some kind of merit aid. 

Related: National Merit Scholarship: What Is It and How Do I Get It?

Who gets merit aid?

Merit aid is awarded to students based on their academic profile. While the criteria is different for each school, it’s typically found that applicants who are in the top 25% of a college’s most recently admitted freshman class are most likely to be awarded merit aid. Merit scholarships are mostly awarded for academic excellence, but merit aid can also be awarded for notable talents in music, art, or athletics.

Am I smart enough to get merit aid?

Each college you apply to will have a different academic profile for incoming freshmen, so you don’t need to be a straight-A student or have a perfect SAT or ACT score to get merit aid. There are many cases of B-level high school students receiving merit awards.

Related: How Are Grades Used in College Admission Decisions?

How can I find out if I qualify for merit aid?

You can find out if you’re in the top percentile for colleges you’re interested in by going to the website of each school, finding their common data information, and applying top quartile data for your test scores. You can also use aid search tools like MeritMore, which takes your SAT or ACT scores and GPA (or your GPA only if no scores are available due to test cancellations) and matches you with all the schools most likely to give you merit aid.

How can I get the best merit aid offer?

Once you have your list of strong merit aid colleges, you can also compare offer data with MeritMore and then apply to the colleges that will likely give you the biggest merit awards. Keep an open mind and explore schools that may not have been on your radar but that meet most of—if not all—your criteria. This is the way you can find “hidden gem” colleges that are more affordable and may keep you from taking on overwhelming student loan debt. 

Related: How to Compare Your College Financial Aid Awards

Merit aid can be a huge help when it comes to paying for college, but just like anything else in the college search process, you need to do your research. Learn what your options are and what’s available to you so you can receive the most money possible from the college you ultimate decide to attend.

To find more awards you’re eligible for, use our Scholarship Search tool and get applying for scholarships today!

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Tags:
financial aid merit aid merit-based financial aid paying for college scholarships

About Neeta Vallab

Neeta Vallab is the founder of MeritMore, a college and financial aid search website to help you find a school that will provide you the most aid possible.

 

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