54 Best Bets for College Merit Aid

Money from faucet representing best bets for merit aidAre you serious about looking for an affordable education at a good college? Don’t think you’ll qualify for any significant financial aid? Then it’s time to begin looking beyond the rankings and paying attention to the data that tells you how much money schools are giving students. In this post, I’ll provide a list of best bets for college merit aid.

How I Picked the Schools

I created this list based on data from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) available as of January of this year. IPEDS lists the percentage of freshman who are receiving institutional gift aid and the average amount. If over 90% of freshman are getting institutional aid, it can’t all be need-based. That means that it’s very likely these schools are awarding a significant amount of merit money to students without need.

I started by searching for schools that had an average SAT score for freshman between 1200 and 1290 or the ACT equivalent. These scores rank in the 80s in terms of national percentiles for college bound students. I focused on the private schools since they’re more likely to provide non-need based institutional aid.

Furthermore, I eliminated colleges where the average net price was over $30,000. Generally, this means the average amount of institutional aid is low or that the total cost of attendance is so high, that the school still remains expensive even after the merit award. I also dropped schools where the average institutional award represented less than 30% of the total cost of attendance.

I made one more adjustment to the list. There are an increasing number of schools that are test optional and don’t report test scores. Therefore, I included the 15 test optional schools that met all of the requirements except for test scores.

Out of the 102 private schools I started with, this left 65 likely sources for generous college merit aid. A total of 39 of these institutions have their Common Data Set information posted which showed that at 11 colleges less than 20% of freshman without need received merit aid. I eliminate these schools from the list which left the 54 shown below.

What Kind of Schools Made the List

The schools are located in 27 states with Indiana and Massachusetts having the most at five, followed by Texas with four, and then Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio with three each. The four-year graduation rates ranged from a low of 26% to a high of 80%. Of the 13 schools with less than 50% 4-year graduation rates, nine had 5-year graduation rates of 50% or better. Five of them were over 60%.

The lowest reported acceptance rate was 45% and the highest was 97%.  Only one school had more than 10,000 full-time undergraduates, seven had between 4,500 and 9,999, and the rest were fewer than 4,500.

A total of 25 schools had an average net price of less than $25,000 making these excellent candidates for college merit aid. These schools are in the Midwest and the South with the exception of one each in New York, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. It’s not that bargains don’t exist on the West Coast or in the Northeast, there are just going to be more opportunities for bargains in less popular destinations.

54 Best Bet Colleges for Merit Aid
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  1. […] Among all colleges, there are 51 that had an average institution grant of $30,000 or greater for freshman and 27 offer no merit aid. Of the remaining 24 schools, only four provided merit aid to 10% or more of students without any financial need and one of those is the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. If you’re trying to find merit scholarships, you need to look elsewhere. […]

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