OK, so what is the REAL scoop with so called merit scholarsh

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: OK, so what is the REAL scoop with so called merit scholarsh
By Weenie (Weenie) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:34 pm: Edit

How did you parents actually identify schools that have merit scholarship money available? I'm having a devil of a time. Seems there is very little at the smaller LACs for white boys with good grades and musical talent. Any ideas? Thanks!!

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:39 pm: Edit

This is NOT what you asked, but I often wonder why more people don't also go for outside merit scholarships. My son has gotten around $20,000 for his first two years at a LAC, not from the LAC but from private sources. Local and state scholarships were easiest to get; he has also gotten some national ones. And a relative got a Carpe Diem scholarship - only a few thousand people apply, and the relative won $5,000 ANNUALLY!

But I will now bow to those that have more info about in-school merit money.

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:41 pm: Edit

Take the top 50 LACs as listed in USNWR or some such, get rid of those for XX chromosomes only, and go one by one to the websites. You'll find there are a TON for white guys with good grades and musical talent. There are so many, it's hardly worth spending time naming them.

By Cyclingdad (Cyclingdad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:45 pm: Edit

I'll just add to Mini's comments that, once you've narrowed down the choices a bit, start calling Financial Aid Officers at your schools of choice and tactfully ask if you may describe your traits and if they could give you an idea of what you may expect in the way of merit aid. I found that some were quite forthcoming, while others were more tight-lipped. But I don't see that it hurts to ask.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:03 pm: Edit

Merit scholarships are a part of an "airline-style" pricing structure used by colleges to fill their "seats" with discounted fares. The theory is that it is better to sell some seats at a cheaper price than to fly empty.

There are two categories of discounts used by colleges. One is monetary -- offering tuition rebates (either need-based or merit-based). The other type of discount is lower your admissions standards.

The ultimate goal of any college is to attract as many "full-fare" customers as possible. Full-fare customers are attracted to presstigious schools with selective admissions standards. Thus, most good colleges would rather keep their "stats" up by using monetary discounts rather than lowering their admissions standards.

It is particular effective to offer discounts in the form of "merit-scholarships" because these attract high-stat students that increase the "stats" of the college, making it more selective, and more attractive to full-fare customers down the road. There was perfect example here on CC this year. A 1600 SAT guy from California who got accepted to Yale and several other ultra-competitive schools. Money was important, but he didn't qualify for need-based aid. He chose to attend Vanderbilt because they offered him a full-tuition discount to entice him. He gets a great deal; they get a super student who raises the quality of their student body and their overall "stats".

A handful of the ultra-prestigious colleges and universities do not offer merit-aid discounts because they don't need to. Williams, Swarthmore, and Amherst fill more than half their "seats" with full-fare passengers. They use their "discounts" for high-stat kids requiring need-based aid -- instead of using discounts to raise their SAT stats, they use discounts to increase their diversity stats. It is not a coincidence that the merit-discount schools tend to have less diversity than the need-discount schools.

If you drop down one tier (to the level of Vanderbilt, Emory, etc.) you will start to see extensive use of merit-aid discounting -- in the form the "Emory Scholars" or "Presidential Scholars" programs. But, here's the key: they are using these discounts to BOOST the stats of their student body, so they are only going to entice you with merit-aid discounts if you are a "high-stat" kid. As a rule of thumb, you want to be at least a 75th percentile applicant to have a chance at pure merit-aid discounts. For example, Emory's 75th percentile SATs are 1460. I doubt that you would have much of chance at an Emory Scholards merit aid enticement without 1500 SATs. Ahother example of this discount-strategy is the HONORS scholarshop programs at nearly every state univerity. Same deal -- offer merit discounts to increased the perceived quality of the student body, just like you would use football scholarships to improve the team and attract more national attention.

The strategy for maximizing merit-aid discounts is to drop down a tier or two from your maximum match/reach level. For example, Dickenson College is a liberal arts colleges that uses a merit-aid discount strategy. It is the USNEWS 40th ranked LAC with a 25th to 75th percentile SAT scores from 1180 - 1360. You apply to Dickenson with 1450 to 1500 SATs (and a corresponding transcript) and you probably have a very good chance at one of their full-tuition merit-aid discounts.

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:14 pm: Edit

Lewis and Clark offers merit $$ based entirely on SAT scores. My D got a $8K/year offer. And they have no commitment EA. It was my D's safety school, and she'd heard by early December, which made life a lot easier.

DickInson College may offer merit money, but I doubt if they'd be thrilled if you called them DickEnson in the application.

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:24 pm: Edit

you may also notice that the higher tier schools that don't offer merit aid up front offer merit awards once you are attending.
( Usually named after some alumna)

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:27 pm: Edit

>> DickInson College may offer merit money, but I doubt if they'd be thrilled if you called them DickEnson in the application.

They probably wouldn't care how you spell it if you have 1500 SATs!

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:37 pm: Edit

I don't know. I've been told (anecdotally) that misspelling a school's name on the application is enough to get the app thrown out.

By Vadad (Vadad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:15 pm: Edit

Interesteddad is completely correct about this "buying the stats" business and merit aid. I'm not going to say that's the sole factor in deciding who gets it, but it is a big factor. It also helps to have very institution-specific applications--no common apps, figure out what they are looking for at that school, and try to emphasize matching qualities.
A lot of excellent schools (even a few "first-tier" ones on anybody's list) offer some very nice merit aid. For example, Rice offered our D a merit award that totalled about a third of total cost of attendance. Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill have some excellent programs (some full rides) that are either exclusively or largely merit-based. Maybe it's just because that was where we were looking, but a lot of the more lucrative merit aid seems to be offered by schools in the South. Emory and Vandy have already been mentioned. Add to that Wake Forest, and among LAC's, Davidson (our favorite) and W&L. Some of the midwestern LAC's offered merit aid, but usually not full or full-tuition rides. There are not a LOT of these scholarships at each of these schools, but they are there. To work this merit aid thing, the kid genuinely has to be willing to attend any one of a number of different schools to increase the chances and forego the ED route.
I know that all of these schools have extensive descriptions of their merit aid programs and qualifications at their websites.

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 04:40 pm: Edit

Local sources are good for scholarships if you have the time to hunt them down and apply for them. Many families I know who have done this have felt that they were working for minimum wage when they got a few under $1000 award. If your kid is super busy, it is really difficult to dot the i's and cross the t's on these awards. If you are lucky enough to be in a school that tracks these awards and lists them each month, it makes things easier. Otherwise the best thing to do is to identify a local school that does do this (Catholic schools seem to be the best at this) and piggy back on their efforts. The other sources are the Fastweb site and some directories, including Benjamin Kaplan's books for the bigger juicier awards. Th OP's student is impressive netting $20k--most kids I know do not do anywhere nearly as well.

I saw a breakdown on college money recently and the % of funds from private sources outside of the college is truly miniscule. The main source is government (state and federal financial and merit aid including programs like Ga's HOPE and WV's Promise and Fl's Bright Futures) and college funds. So finding schools that give merit money is truly a treasure hunt that can yield some $.

The best source I have seen is the big, fat USN&WR Ultimate College Directory. You can find a list of colleges that give the most financial aid and merit money. If you are not eligible for financial aid, just look up the individual schools in the directory that have good merit aid numbers. Then look at the SAT range. If your student has a 1300 SAT, for instance, and the top 25% of the SAt range starts at 1200, and the school has 30% of the kids on merit aid, then it is a good bet that he will get something from that school. An average award figure is also given which can be a good indicator of what you can get. If a school only gives 10% of the kids merit aid and the top 25% range begins at 1340, unless your kid has a powerful hook, the chances of getting merit money are very low. You then go onto the selected schools' websites and hone in on the scholarships that your child may get. If the bulk of the awards tend to go for math/science types, for example or for performing arts, and your kid is a poli sci major, it is not looking real good. If the awards are given from offices outside of financial aid, it does not hurt to write a letter expressing interest in a specific award. I don't think it hurts to let the admissions office know if you have your eye on a specific scholarship even though many awards are supposed to be awarded to the applicant pool at large. It does show strong demonstrated interest as it does take time and trouble to do the research, and can yield some results. My kids all wrote notes targetting their awards, and I am sure that is why that got as much as they did.

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 05:03 pm: Edit

Interesteddad, what "tier" system or ranking system are you referring to that lists Emory as being on a lower tier than Swarthmore? In most rankings I've seen they are not even in the same category as Emory is listed as a Doctoral Research University and Swat is listed as an LAC. Do you have a study that compares all colleges and universities together? I have not seen that one and would certainly like to.

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 05:11 pm: Edit

Best thing to be is the oboe/English horn player in the year one is graduating. High-stat kids are a dime a dozen, but English horn players....

(or a championship elite female gymnast with 1150 SATs - a shoe-in for a full ride at Stanford.)

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 05:13 pm: Edit

>> The best source I have seen is the big, fat USN&WR Ultimate College Directory. You can find a list of colleges that give the most financial aid and merit money.

I believe the same information is available in the online premium edition of the USN&WR guide. Very handy resource for $14.95. Basically has the common data set info for every college and university in the country plus sortable lists. For example, you can sort LACs by selectivity rank to look for "admissions values".

By Sillystring7 (Sillystring7) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 05:21 pm: Edit

The best book I found on this was "Discounts and Deals at the Nation's 320 Best Colleges" by Bruce Hammond. It lists the top colleges, describes the merit scholarship offerings as "few, none or many," and also gives info about what types of students/stats qualify for the scholarships.

I am just going to come out and admit that merit aid played a large part in where our daughter went to school. She included financial safeties on her list, as well as schools where merit would be a real reach. She received offers of full tuition or better at six schools. She is attending the University of Chicago, one of the better schools that does offer merit aid.

By Thumper1 (Thumper1) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 11:12 pm: Edit

>>Best thing to be is the oboe/English horn player in the year one is graduating.>>

DD is that oboe/English Horn player...and an accomplished one at that. She is hoping this will be to her advantage in the college application process next year. She has already been encouraged to apply and audition for merit aid as a non-major at two schools we visited with her. She may major in a music field (not performance or education) but is undecided at this point.

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 11:43 pm: Edit

Seriously, you have an absolute winner. Even mediocre oboe/English horn players are in such huge demand, and there are entire parts of the repertoire that a student orchestra simply can't play without them. They are rarer than football quarterbacks, and command top dollar.

I've seen them get into the top LACs and occasionally an Ivy with far, far less than average stats, and merit money is just rolled out to snare one.

Hint for folks with 9th graders: Save your money on SAT test prep, and invest in a good oboe teacher. The return will be far, far greater. (But note - for many, if not most students, SAT prep will be far less painful.)

(Well, now that I've created a huge oversupply of doublereed players, I've got to figure what the next big rage is likely to be....)

By Bookworm (Bookworm) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 11:56 pm: Edit

S plays oboe/clarient, but his school was looking for a baseball pitcher. I think its like guessing the stock market.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:19 am: Edit

Local sources are good for scholarships if you have the time to hunt them down and apply for them. Many families I know who have done this have felt that they were working for minimum wage when they got a few under $1000 award.

The rest of your post was very helpful, Jamimom, but I have to comment on the above: since my son recycled essays, etc., I have figured that he has made approximately $2,500 and hour applying for outside aid. That is not a typo!!! Eight hours total for twenty grand!

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:49 am: Edit

the next big rage....

oh, I don't know, how about...

being yourself.

Wouldn't that be lovely.

In the meantime, balinese dancing and javanese gamelan...why not...when in Rome....

By Backhandgrip (Backhandgrip) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 07:29 am: Edit

If you are looking for it in black and white the key word is National Merit Scholar. Chances are your son took the PSAT's and it he qualified for semi-finalist many, many schools will give at least some merit aid for this.IT will generally be stated in their scholarship section.There are some colleges wich will also give merit aid for a Commended Scholar but not as many schools and not as much.

By Lefthandofdog (Lefthandofdog) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 07:57 am: Edit

The next big rage?

How about being a GROWER of fair trade coffee beans?

By Tsdad (Tsdad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 08:14 am: Edit

Last year we received a surprise merit aid award at USC that my son didn't even apply for. It's called a Trojan Scholarship. It was awarded after he accepted admission. It small, but nice. I mentioned it to someone from their Financial Aid Office, it's their money, and he called it their secret scholarship.

By Marite (Marite) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 08:39 am: Edit

LOL about the oboe player. This is what a friend (Yale alum interviewer) suggested as a hook or tip to my S. Unfortunately, he plays the piano, and was never able to play a wind instrument.

A gamelan player or balinese dancer would certainly catch the eye of an adcom!

By Simba (Simba) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 09:03 am: Edit

Voronwe: I am happy for your son that he got $$$$ for very little effort.

However, the story with your son is an excemption, not a rule. You just were lucky.

Most National Scholarships are like a lotto. Many companies and foundation have few dozen to dole out and they have several thousand applicants. There is no way they can judge every one that applied - the administrative costs would be too high.

I like the Coca-cola approach. Fill out an on-line application with minimum details and effort (no eassay, no counselors, no transcripts). In December they notify 1,500 kids and ask them to submit detailed applications, and pick 50+200 winnders.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 10:03 am: Edit

Simba, that's why he went mostly for local and regional scholarships. However, even with national ones (he has won three), the trick is to go for ones for which you are uniquely qualified. For example, a friend did a science project on groundwater, and the American Ground Water Trust has scholarships that a lot of people don't apply for (he won one - $2,000). Or if it's a bigger one, like the Carpe Diem a relative won ($5,000 a year each college year), it only makes sense if the applicant's qualifications are awesome. I would agree with you in reference to the ones that 50,000 people apply for. My son never applied for one that more than around 4,000 applied for.

If the rules above are followed, than the amount of "luck" involved greatly decreases, and the
percentage attributable to the applicant's qualifications greatly increases.

By Songman (Songman) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 11:39 am: Edit

Weenie- you are wise to ask about merit $ now. We did not research early enough and my S could have fared better by being prepared.

I cannot add to Interesteddad's comments except to suggest that you follow up any list with a reality check. And the cc board is one way to do that! We discovered that some schools are generous and others have very little to offer as far as merit awards. Or recipients are very tight lipped and secretive about their offers which in the end gives the college an advantage over us consumers. IMHO, similar to a car dealer's invoice price versus sticker price. All I can say is that while my S was heart broken over being accepted to Skidmore only to discover later that they do not award merit outside of 3 or 4 alumni scholarships was a negative to the whole college process for us. The old adage "You can't predict but you can prepare" applies here I believe.

Other may dispute this statement (or generalization), but it appears to me that the #2 tier and #3 tier LAC's try harder to fill seats and so they are more generous with merit money.

By Anxiousmom (Anxiousmom) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 12:30 pm: Edit

re: outside merit scholarships. We found that a lot of them, (even the local ones), used financial need and/or ethnicity as a part of the formula, and it was hard to determine how much a factor it would be. In the end, DD was so busy applying for colleges and working on her HS coursework and studying for AP exams, that applying for a lot of outside scholarships just didn't happen. That being said, she got a generous package from her University, and outside scholarships would NOT have helped us financially. (Unless the scholarships exceeded our "need-based" grants; highly unlikely)
I think for lots of kids, mine included, applying for outside scholarships is psychologically stressful, because it involves promoting yourself and because the chances of sucess are so low.

By Simba (Simba) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:03 pm: Edit

I think for lots of kids, mine included, applying for outside scholarships is psychologically stressful, because it involves promoting yourself and because the chances of sucess are so low


By Cyclingdad (Cyclingdad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:13 pm: Edit

Yes, I agree with Anxiousmom and others. If the student fits into one of the niches that allows application to some of the better outside scholarships, great. But ours found only one to apply for, and a small one at that. After knocking ourselves out just meeting the logistical requirements of this application, we didn't hear a thing one way or another. And this for $1000 or less. The colleges were much more generous. Our experience.

By Anxiousmom (Anxiousmom) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:17 pm: Edit

oops. "success". Sorry, didn't check my spelling!

By Evil_Robot (Evil_Robot) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:32 pm: Edit


Interesteddad already mentioned me (:P), but I'm the 1600 kid attending Vandy. They offered me a full tuition scholarship plus more (and I had an outside NMS scholarship (from the NM corporation) along with a few local scholarships) and I'm doing really great right now. I'm happy with how things ended up - especially the $675 bill for room, board, tuition, health insurance, fees, etc I got for first semester :) (it's gonna go up ;p).

E-mail me, it's in my profile.

Edit: AP National Scholar and IB full diploma = shitloads of work.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 01:57 pm: Edit

OK, I will give up defending outside scholarships. But there was no "psychological stress" involved whatsoever, according to my son; for many scholarships, the odds were great. My sister lives in Northern Fairfield County CT, where the Barton Weller scholarship ($12,000) routinely gets around 20 applicants - they simply write up a project that they have already done in the past. TWO of the scholarships were renewed for my son the second year BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE APPLIED!!!

Although I am giving up trying to convince anyone, I still argue that $2,500 an hour for 8 hours work is a great deal! We are NOT eligible for ANY financial aid whatsoever from the schools (unless son - a top ranked student - chose to drop down from top ten to a lower tier), and $20,000 for the first two two years is nothing to sneeze ---- or sneer --- at.

Of course it is different if you are eligible for financial aid from the school.

By Lefthandofdog (Lefthandofdog) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 02:16 pm: Edit

Voronwe hit the nail on the head - it was worthwhile for her family because they wouldn't qualify for need-based aid. Local scholarships are often not reported to a school. They're often small amounts in checks payable directly to the student. Any significant outside scholarship is deducted from a student's fin.aid package (loans first, then outright grants from school in most places). So for kids who qualify and are attending schools that guarantee to meet "full demonstrated need" there may well be no incentive to make the effort to apply. For families that won't be receiving financial aid, it is worth the effort - nothing to lose.

By Mini (Mini) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 02:28 pm: Edit

Actually, not quite. We had what most folks would consider to be extremely high demonstrated need, not quite to Evil Robot's level, but much, much closer to that than paying full freight.

Where d. is going, she received a huge merit aid package, and a needbased package on top of it, and a research assistantship on top of that, but it was still going to be stretch (even though the total was more than full tuition). But the school's policy was such that any outside scholarships could be applied to bring down the applicant's expected contribution (not the parental portion, but anything expected from the applicant, including loans). What the outside scholarships did was eliminate the need for loans entirely, and, in theory, might free up a summer or two (important for a composer, as symposia are all in the summer.) And it didn't affect the grants in the least.

By 2dsdad (2dsdad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 02:54 pm: Edit

"applying for outside scholarships is psychologically stressful, because it involves promoting yourself and because the chances of sucess are so low"

Doesn't that describe the process of applying to highly selective colleges in general. (g)

By Goldie924 (Goldie924) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 03:37 pm: Edit

Anyone know the best place to get the print version of the "big, fat USN&WR Ultimate College Directory," and what it costs?

By Alleya17 (Alleya17) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 04:03 pm: Edit

Like your son, I'm in the position of not getting any financial aid or merit aid from my college because I chose to attend a top 10 school. How did you find the large local/regional scholarships? When I was looking around for scholarships, the online engines only turned up the national scholarships that 10s of thousands of people apply for, or tiny (<1000) scholarships. The only regional scholarships I was able to find were only available to students attending in-state public colleges. I tried going through my high-school, but they were only able to point out scholarships that take financial need into consideration.

By Csbballstardad (Csbballstardad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 04:07 pm: Edit

2dsdad, we were at Barnes and Noble Sunday and it was in stock at our local store. Check their (B+N)online.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 04:11 pm: Edit

Here is my understanding of the situation: for those who will qualify for FA, *small* outside scholarships aren't going to be that useful UNLESS the student receives a full tuition merit scholarship (not dependent on need) in which case student gets to keep outside monies (no longer so small LOL) to use for r & b, travel, computers, books etc. Yes some taxes will be owed, but not a problem as I see it.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 06:13 am: Edit

Alleya17, I am sorry to hear about your high school's lack of help - most of my son's scholarships were found through the high school. Another thing he tried was OTHER high schools' webpages in the region --- several of them listed scholarships our own guidance office hadn't heard of (they had links to their guidance dept. webpages, which were far better than ours, and listed tons of scholarships).

My son, friend, and a relative also found SOME through the giant engines (such as Carpe Diem) like Fastweb, and found the Ameican Ground Water Trust through the Yahoo search engine (I think he put in search words like "groundwater" and "environmental" along with "scholarship."

One scholarship my son got was "tiny" ($500) but it turns out that it renews every year. I feel that even $1,000 ones are good because my husband and I would have to earn $2,000 to net that money (income tax, state tax etc). So for the $20,000 we got, we'd have to earn $40,000!

Oh - we also found some scholarships by scanning the regional newspapers around graduation (or look at back issues at the newspaper office for last June). They list all the scholarships that graduates of the various high schools won --- we got several leads there.

Good luck!

By Achat (Achat) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 09:34 am: Edit

Voronwe, that was very useful, thanks!

By Alleya17 (Alleya17) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 10:46 am: Edit

I think the reason my high school only had need-based scholarships was that most of their students would qualify for them. This time I'll try the webpages for the private schools in my area. Thanks for your advice!

By Achat (Achat) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 01:14 pm: Edit

Voronwe, thanks again! I looked at Fastweb and had my son look at it too. Many of them look promising.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 01:50 pm: Edit

You're welcome. Yes, Alleya17, looking at "rich kids' schools" really helped us - one such local school listed ONLY non-need-based scholarships!

By Ohmadre (Ohmadre) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 05:04 pm: Edit

Be sure you understand how a merit scholarship works if you otherwise have financial need, as at many schools, your merit award will be applied against your financial aid package and will not be in addition to it. At such schools, a student whose family income would otherwise have been determined sufficent to meet the costs of college will definitely benefit from a merit scholarship but a student whose family would otherwise be entitled to available financial aid is not getting any extra help from some, maybe all, of the merit scholarship - making that particular school no more financially feasible than any other school which would only offer financial aid. Unless of course, the aid offered by another school was substantially in the form of loans and not grants.

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