September 2011 E-NEWSLETTER

posted Sep 2, 2011, 10:29 PM by Glenda Durano   [ updated Sep 2, 2011, 10:35 PM ]

As an educational consultant, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “How can I get merit based aid?”  With the cost of college increasing annually by about twice the amount of inflation, it’s an important question to ask. 

A student doesn’t receive merit-based aid because a school “likes” you.  A student receives merit-based aid because he has proven his potential during high school and the college thinks that the student will be a good fit. Yes, just like students look for a good fit in schools, colleges do the same thing with students.  That’s one reason why it’s important that a student gives a university a good idea of who he is by demonstrating tangible accomplishments throughout high school.  Otherwise, the student will be non-distinctive and uninteresting.

These days, most universities participate in “enrollment management.”  They know just how much merit aid it takes to get a student to accept that school’s invitation.  Trends in merit-based aid are changing.  Many schools are more likely today to offer two students half-tuition rather than offering one student full tuition—unless that student is truly extraordinary.  If the two students accept (and many will), the school will receive some tuition payment (half from each) and they will have filled two places with excellent students instead of just one. 

So, how do colleges decide how much merit aid to offer?  Are you ready for a “light bulb” moment?

As I began to write this newsletter, I ran across a fascinating article by Lynn O’Shaughnessy, the undisputed guru of college financial aid.  Rather than my rehashing what she wrote, I decided to reprint the article below.  I think you’ll find it quite enlightening!

How Colleges Determine Merit Scholarships

By Lynn O’Shaughnessy

How do colleges and universities decide who will get their merit scholarships? Grade point averages, standardized test scores, and the strength of your high school curriculum often play a significant role. However, there are other factors, particularly at private schools, that can play a supporting role in determining which students pocket awards.

Teenagers who receive merit awards are happy to receive the money, but they often don't know what it took to earn them. That's why I was happy to stumble across the blueprint for the merit awards that the University of Rochester dispensed to its latest crop of freshmen.

Jonathan Burdick, the undergraduate dean of admissions and financial aid, decided to take a look after the 2011-12 class was formed to see what factors had mattered in merit award decisions. Even better, Burdick assigned a dollar value to these factors.

I found the merit aid breakdown fascinating. While all schools will have their own criteria, this list will give you some sense of what matters beyond the obvious. Here's how Rochester's merit awards played out during the past admissions cycle:

• $3,000: The school typically rewarded candidates who reached out to it with an extra $3,000. These were teenagers who had serious conversations with the admissions and financial aid office. Schools like to feel wanted, and reaching out to them with meaningful conversations can help.

• $2,000: That's what teens who weren't New Yorkers received. Sixty two percent of the freshmen class hails from somewhere else. While Burdick didn't check, he suspects that students who lived farther away received an even fatter amount of money. Why would students benefit from being from distant states? Because colleges crave geographic diversity. They want to be able to brag that they have students from all 50 states or close to it. 

• $62: Each "A" on a teen's transcript generated $62 worth of merit aid.

• $400: Teenagers received roughly $400 for each tough course that they took. Courses that would qualify included Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and honors.

• $1,800: A student got this much more if the school considered his or her recommendations excellent.

• $115: Each 10-point improvement in the SAT above the average for Rochester freshmen garnered an extra $115. The average SAT score was 2040.

• $400: Observing deadlines matter. Students got an extra $400 for completing the application on time, as well as making sure mid-year grades were sent.

• $1.89: You got this much less every time a student was admitted with the same major. This clearly favored students with less popular majors such as philosophy and hurt students interested in such big majors as psychology, political science, and economics.

• $1,700: That's how much the typical freshmen received in merit money if his or her parents completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The school imposes a progressive tax on its merit awards. On average, $4 less in income boosts the merit award by one cent.


            Interesting, huh?  Students really do have some “control” in the process depending on how they prove their potential throughout high school.  Parents, support your students in proving their passions.  Help them find opportunities.  Students, take responsibility for those opportunities.  While the big pay offs are the confirmation of your passions and the development of your abilities, there’s a lot to be said for significant offers of merit-based  aid as well! 

   For more information about College Advising and Planning Services or to inquire about our individual college planning services, please check out our website or call us at (505) 918-7669.