kitchen table math, the sequel: merit aid for scores and grades?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

merit aid for scores and grades?

A card from Miami University arrived in the mail yesterday promising X amount of merit aid for Y scores-and-GPA.

How do you find out what other colleges and universities are offering?

Have people out there received offers?

I'd like to put together an informal list or database of what's possible----

OCTOBER 11, 2006
Amid Rising Costs and Criticism, Some Colleges Cut Back Merit Aid

JANUARY 13, 2009
States Weigh Cuts to Merit Scholarships
Budget Shortfalls Threaten Popular Programs That Aim To Keep Top Students Close to Home; 'I Kind of Feel Betrayed'

APRIL 20, 2006
Saying 'No' to the Ivy League


Jo in OKC said...

College Confidential is a good place to look -- look for threads on "merit aid".

University of Alabama is known for good merit aid. Their honors college is supposed to be really good.

University of Oklahoma gives good scholarships for National Merit because they're very proud of their number of National Merit Scholars.

Catherine Johnson said...


Yup, I was planning to canvas College Confidential.

Anonymous said...

Mark at is awesome.

Bostonian said...

A recent Washington Post article Eight ways to get higher education into shape by Daniel de Vise proposed a Federal ban on merit-based financial aid (enforced by financial penalties on colleges), because merit aid goes to students disproportionately to affluent students who don't "need" it.

Since parents' income is correlated with their intelligence, intelligence is highly heritable, and intelligence is correlated with test scores, it should not be surprising that affluent kids are "overrepresented" among merit scholarship recipients. However, one is not supposed to notice these facts and certainly not to put them together.

kcab said...

So, are things actually different now from the way they used to be? That is - any merit aid given was considered part of the financial aid package and simply reduced the need-based aid that would have been given. That was still good, usually, if it reduced loans rather than grants.

I know I had a large number of merit scholarships and won further while in college, and always struggled with the realization that it didn't make things any easier for my parents. They still had to contribute the amount expected from them (calc'ed from FAFSA, I think?). Of course, this was an expensive school, and I am not really complaining as I did receive a lot of aid (as do A LOT of students).

ChemProf said...

"So, are things actually different now from the way they used to be?"

Yeah, there is a lot more merit aid out there, particularly at mid-ranked schools. One reason some students apply to more places is to see what kind of financial aid package they can get. Basically you want to look at some non-coastal state schools or second tier liberal arts colleges, both of whom want to keep their average SATs up to improve their rankings, and are willing to use merit aid to do so.

K9Sasha said...

We (my husband, son, and I) have come to the conclusion it isn't worth jumping through hoops to get merit aid because we, the parents, will still give the college the same amount of money. If merit aid were given on top of need based aid, then I'd jump through the hoops needed to get it in an instant.

Debbie Stier said...

I just got an email from this blog which seems interesting.

Grace Nunez said...

In my experience, very few colleges offer information as clear cut as Miami U does. It's mainly a black box, as is college admissions in general.

More often, merit aid information is presented in more vague terms. Sometimes, colleges will say things such as "scholarship recipients typically have test scores and grade averages in such and such a range".

VickyS said...

We got a couple of those mailings, that offered x dollars of aid for y GPA/SAT combination. However, better merit aid awards are available, they are just not as clear cut.

There are usually no hoops to jump through to get merit aid offered by a particular college; most of the time all applicants are considered. An award letter comes with the acceptance letter; that's been our experience at least.

We decided not to fill out the FAFSA and let the chips fall where they may; most of the time at our income level, need-based aid comes in the form of work-study and loans, and I felt if we need loans or a job, we/he'd get that outside the federal system. Our strategy was to apply mostly to schools where my son was in the top 25% of applicants.

With costs of attendance at many private school in excess of 50K (even our own U of Minn is 26K for a resident) merit aid is really a must for middle income families. The cost of college is many times higher for our children than it was for us--it's a whole different ball game.

Because you don't know what school will give you aid, and how much, it means you do have to increase the number of colleges you apply to. My son ended up with 5 affordable options, which I think was just about right. Currently deciding--crazy time!

ChemProf said...

VickyS is right, for what I mean by merit aid, which is college aid targeted to top students for that school. That kind of aid can decrease the parental contribution, since it is usually given before financial aid even looks at your FAFSA.

For example, at my institution we have a small set of scholarships for science students. It isn't big bucks (about 5K per year), but can be added to other school scholarships that cover 1/4 or 1/2 of tuition (but not to the one that covers full tuition). These kinds of awards typically don't cover housing. The students are chosen by faculty (for the science ones) or admissions (for the other ones), and are need-blind. There aren't any hoops, just decisions made as part of the admissions process about how likely the student is to come and how strong the student's record is.

However, when you bring in OUTSIDE scholarship money, this is only applied as a part of your financial aid package, so the outside scholarship may not do much more than decrease the need-based aid you would get without it (if you are eligible). That may be what K9Sasha is thinking of, but isn't typically what I think of as merit aid. That said, it may be worth seeking out some outside scholarships if you have good odds (most of my sister's tuition was paid by a scholarship at our church, for example, which only got about 10 applicants per year -- she was the only person going to a private school and basically got all the left over money those years). Also, some national merit money doesn't require an application per se.

tjb said...

One thing worth noting: even when outside merit aid counts against a student's financial aid package, you can often bargain as to which *parts* of the package it counts against. So, you can get schools to use merit scholarships to reduce loans and/or work study. That is still a benefit to the family, even if it doesn't change the immediate parental outlay.

And if a school insists on using the scholarship to simply cut their own grants (leaving loans and work study intact), you can often get the agency giving the scholarship to put pressure on the school. They, after all, want their money to help the student, not just the school.

kcab said...

I guess my perspective is probably skewed since the school I went to didn't give merit aid (nor does it now), only need-based.

Way back when I was trying to decide on where to attend, I felt very uncomfortable with the scholarship offer from one university. There weren't any hoops to jump through up front, but there was a minimum GPA that needed to be maintained to continue to get the scholarship in subsequent years. I felt uncertain enough about how things would go, and uncertain about what the cost would be if my GPA wasn't high enough, so that I turned down a full ride. I'm still not sure if this was a good decision, but it wasn't an outright bad decision. It did take me awhile to adapt to college.

Catherine Johnson said...

This is terrifically helpful -- thanks so much.

Vicky --- you must tell me what you're considering??!!

Grace -- I'm wondering whether this info is FOILable.

At a state university, I think it would have to be, wouldn't it?

I'm also wondering whether and how FOIL law applies to private colleges & universities that accept a great deal of state funding.

Jo in OKC said...

Someone mentioned to me yesterday that Tulane is giving good merit aid to top students to try to re-build the university.

Of course, they decimated their engineering programs after the hurricane, so you have to be certain they have the major you're interested in. :-)

ChemProf said...

Because the process is so idiosyncratic, there will be a conflict between FOIL and student privacy (that is, they can't tell you what aid a particular student got) that will probably make any information you get too vague to be useful. Just like trying to get information on admitted versus rejected students -- they'll give you broad averages but there are always exceptions on the exceptions.

Anonymous said...

The University of South Carolina has an extensive Honors College, which offers upper-division classes in a wide variety of fields, in addition to the more usual freshman-sophomore ones. All Honors College courses are taught by professors (no TAs) and the classes are small - my son and his wife had classes as small as 4 students (2 grad, 2 undergrad) and few above 20-25. An Honors College degree requires a senior thesis. The last I heard, the Honors College required at least a 1400 SAT, but most Honors College students receive merit scholarships - for out-of-state students, such scholarships qualify them for reduced tuition (essentially the in-state rate). The campus is right in Columbia, and the housing on the historic Horseshoe is reserved for Honors College students. It's not a big brand name, but the opportunity for a great education is right there and the Honors College faculty want to help their students with special programs, internships etc.

Catherine Johnson said...

Because the process is so idiosyncratic, there will be a conflict between FOIL and student privacy

Is that definitely true?

I'm sure you're right that there are idiosyncrasies, but I'd be very surprised if they don't have documents talking about minimums & cut-offs ---- ??

(I'm thinking of Michele Hernandez publishing the Ivy League formula they'd denied they had for so long.)

VickyS said...

I do think the merit aid policies are idiosyncratic; it just depends what kind of student they need or are interested in at any given time. You can find out a school's average amount of merit aid on the college board website--it's called average non-need based aid. Key to getting an award is make sure you apply to schools where you child's stats put him/her in the top 25%.

Catherine, my son has made his decision...he's a computer science guy and turned down a couple of great offers in the US in favor of attending the University of Waterloo just outside of Toronto. All you folks with older kids who love math & engineering...check it out!

ChemProf said...

"I'd be very surprised if they don't have documents talking about minimums & cut-offs ---- ??"

Big state schools probably do, and the Ivies would (but give less merit aid because they don't have to). Small, second-tier privates, not so much. So you might be able to FOIL University of Alabama, but not Agnes Scott.

The big thing to know as a parent is that the major opportunity for aid happens when students enter college. There is less merit aid available for transfers at most places, even if they admit a lot of transfers, and if you aren't awarded merit aid on entrance, there is usually no mechanism for getting an award later.

Grace Nunez said...

Ivies don't offer merit scholarships, as far as I know. In general, merit aid is scarce at most elite schools.

ChemProf said...

Also, the cutoffs may be more complex than you think. For our science scholarships, we look at math SATs, and typically give them to students whose math SAT is 650-700. Why an upper cutoff? Because we've found that students above that are using us as a safety school, and might come if they get a major merit award but not if they only get a smaller one. But if someone was at 710 and admissions was really excited about them, we might push things around a bit.

Grace Nunez said...

ChemProf, interesting that Tufts syndrome (yield protection) exists for scholarships as well as for college admissions.

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof - thanks - this is terrifically helpful

Why do schools not give merit aid for transfers?

Does that have to do with US News rankings?

Catherine Johnson said...

Vicky - Congratulations!!!!

Catherine Johnson said...

If merit aid decisions are idiosyncratic, that would make it all the more interesting to know what the criteria are ---- !

ChemProf said...

Grace -- sure, merit aid is all part of "enrollment management." The goal is to attract strong students, partly because that helps with rankings but largely because of cohort effects. Schools with a core of strong students are more attractive to other strong students, who want to be in classes with other students at their own level. For less competitive schools, managing this is a tricky problem.

Catherine -- I'd agree that knowing the criteria would be interesting, but I don't know that you'd be able to make much use of it. In my example, we are typically told we can offer 8 scholarships and there might be 30-40 students who admissions has targeted as possibilities (based on stated interest and their general ranking). Picking the 8 is a matter of reading the files and talking to admissions, and nothing about criteria or the decision making process is ever written down!

Oh, and our admissions department ranks every file on a 1-5 basis where 1 is highest. However, the faculty have often thought they overlooked strong students (as 2 or 3 ranked), because those students had fewer extracurriculars or were otherwise less interesting to admissions.

Catherine Johnson said...

However, the faculty have often thought they overlooked strong students (as 2 or 3 ranked), because those students had fewer extracurriculars or were otherwise less interesting to admissions.

we are going to get majorly dinged on extra curriculars

unless NYU counts playing videogames

Catherine Johnson said...

chemprof - what happens when admissions ranks a strong student a 2 or 3?

Do you overrule?

Is that allowed?

Catherine Johnson said...

also, when you say "strong cohort," what do you mean?

Students with strong grades and scores want to have peers with strong grades and scores?

ChemProf said...

We've over-ruled admissions for the scholarships that we nominate for, and given them to students admissions ranked as a 2 or 3. A few years ago, we also got some of that money freed up for a scholarship for juniors who did well in our classes but who were missed in the first round of merit aid, but that's an exception.

For transfers, I think part of it is rankings and part of it is that they have fewer choices typically so are less impacted by the merit aid awards.

And yes, students want to have peers who are at a similar place intellectually, so have similar grades/scores. When a student feels like all of his or her classes are too easy and that the other students aren't near the same level, that student often considers leaving. So you want to form connections between students if you want them to stay, and you want them to have comparable peers as much as is possible. I've advised students looking to transfer because their first semester coursework seemed too easy. In one case, I got her to stay by having her take more upper division work in the spring, which made her realize that the school could be a good fit for her.

Aid, enrollment, and retention are all tied together, and that's what makes merit aid tricky. I should also be clear -- I know how it works at my institution and can extrapolate to other small privates that aren't in the top 10 or even the "nifty fifty" on US News, but again, it is idiosyncratic so don't draw too much on my experience!