8 Tips to Increase Merit Scholarship Aid

tips to win college merit aid

When you are searching for the most prolific, rewarding scholarships before you head off to college, you may find that many groups offer smaller scholarships. These are easier to get, but if you have the grades that merit scholarship organizations look for, you can win higher value scholarships that will be much more beneficial in meeting your college’s tuition costs and expenses.

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Here are some tips to help you increase your merit scholarship aid.

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Even though you may not be looking for needs-based scholarships first, be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal rules now allow colleges to award needs-based monies to students whose parents once had good jobs, but who have been laid-off, for instance. You may qualify for up to $5,500 in aid just by applying, if you qualify.

2. Look Beyond Home

Public colleges do not typically pay out much in merit scholarship aid. Less than 10% of state school students are estimated to receive financial aid based on merit. If you want to check, call the admissions office, rather than the office of financial aid, at public colleges, to find out if they offer merit awards to in-state and out-of-state students.

3. Ask about the Renewal Terms

Some merit scholarship programs set high GPA hurdles, and a number of students will not qualify beyond freshman year. College is much harder than high school, and your grades may fall your first year. Go after scholarships that offer easier terms of renewal.

4. Follow the Money

The schools that are the most selective are not likely to just hand out their merit funds. MONEY magazine ranked colleges by their acceptance rate and merit aid awarded. Of colleges with 20% or less acceptance rate, less than 10% received merit scholarship aid. At colleges where 33% or more receive a merit scholarship, the acceptance rate is over 60%. Your best odds are at smaller, lesser-known colleges, which accept roughly 65% of applicants, since almost 50% of their students win merit award funding.

5. Compare Net Cost before You Choose a College

Subtract your scholarships and grants from the total tuition cost of each school, including fees, room & board, transportation and books. Some colleges that offer the largest merit scholarship have higher net prices because their tuition and fees are greater.

6. Play Hard to Get

Apply to several schools where your test scores and grades put you in the top 25% of their applicants. Choose your favorites by placing them on top of your school lists as requested on the ACT and SAT tests and FAFSA forms you fill out. Colleges may offer the most merit scholarship aid to prospects who would bring their student profile higher, and who have more than one college option. Some colleges, however, won’t offer aid to students whom they believe probably will choose another institution.

7. Talk to the People who Make the Decisions

Within colleges, there are many employees in admissions and financial aid departments. Some actually have little power to offer you extra funding. Others higher up the chain can do this easily. An assistant director, director or vice president of a university has last say on approving merit scholarship applications. Meet with them in person, if you can. If that isn’t possible, speak to them on the phone, to get to the top of the food chain in funding decisions.

8. Be Willing to Negotiate

If you received admissions letters from two or three colleges, and the school you would prefer has a net cost higher than another, don’t be afraid of bargaining. Some colleges will match merit scholarship aid grants offered to you from another, competing school.

Schools that do bargain usually only match offers from universities that they consider in the same league as their own. A highly ranked school will not usually match awards from schools that are lower in the rankings. Your negotiating leverage usually ends right before you send in your deposit.

tips to increase merit aidPyper Barnes is a Junior Finance Major at the University of Alabama. Pyper is the owner of WeirdScholarships. WeirdScholarships.net is a website dedicated to helping students find unique and interesting scholarship opportunities. 

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