26 Best Bets for Test Optional Merit Aid

dollar signs on chalk board representing best options for test optional colleges merit aidThink because you’re a miserable test taker, you don’t have a chance at merit aid? Maybe not. If you’re willing to step away from the limelight of prestige and top 50 college rankings, you can find some excellent opportunities among the growing number of test optional colleges. With just a little digging into the data, I came up with 26 possible test optional colleges for merit aid.

Let me explain how I came up with the list. I started out with all colleges where at least 90% of freshman receive institutional aid. When this many students are receiving institutional aid, they can’t all be receiving need-based aid.

Next I kept only schools where the average institutional grant was 40% or more of the total cost of attendance. This means that even though a college may have a lower average award, it still qualifies since it also has a lower total cost. For example, which is a better deal, a $30,000 award from a school that costs $60,000 or a $20,000 award at a school that cost $40,000?

Any schools with a 4 year graduation rate of less than 40% fell off the list. Not much point in attending a school you aren’t likely to graduate from.

Finally, I eliminated any schools where the ACT or SAT was required. That left me with 26 schools where the test is either only recommended or neither required nor recommended.

The list pretty much consists of small, Liberal Arts Colleges. All but three are located in the northeast or Midwest. Graduation rates range for 41% to 80% and the acceptance rate from 48% to 90%.

Remember, these are just potential test optional colleges for merit aid. Some of them still have fairly high percentages of freshman taking non-federal loans or a high percentage of PLUS loans for their undergraduates.

And these are not necessarily good options for students looking for need-based aid. Over half of them have an average net price of over $15,000 for students with a family income under $30,000. Four actually have averages over $20,000.

This list of test optional colleges for merit aid are meant to serve as options for people who are looking to expand their college list. If you’re interested in learning how to target colleges most likely to meet your needs, be sure to subscribe for access to more free college lists and resources.

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