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Helpful Tips on Maximizing Merit Aid

Finding the bottom line of the cost of your college education is a long and detailed process. When schools create financial aid packages based on your parents’ income, earnings and your family’s net assets merit aid, which is for special attributes such as academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, etc. is not awarded by financial need. New federal rules blurs the line between scholarships for merit and grants for financial need. For example, a growing number of colleges award “need-based aid” to students whose families earn a six figures income! Because of this, it is less likely your financial aid package will be enough to make college affordable. So follow these tips to make yourself a good candidate for merit aid to help supplement your financial aid package.

  • Fill out the FAFSA. Federal rules have changed. College aid officials are now allowed to award need-based aid to students whose parents earned high salaries and just recently got laid off. They are also able to make more financial accommodations for unique circumstances, such as high medical bills.
  • Apply to schools where you rank high academically. While your dream school might be Ivy League, apply to a few colleges where you rank at least the top 25% in academics.
  • Apply to schools that offer a lot of financial aid. In the 2009-10 academic year, Louisiana College reported that 88% of students received financial aid that was not need-based. Find schools in your preferred area that boast the same type of financial awards.
  • Do your research. Research the merit aid available at every college on your list, and see how many awards you qualify for. With today’s prices, it is important to capitalize on merit aid.
  • Compare net prices before making a decision. Consider the entire cost of attendance including tuition and fees, room and board, books and transportation. Do not be fooled by merit aid. Tuition at many private schools is so high that their cost of attendance after subtracting grants and scholarships is still more expensive than paying full price at a public institution.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. You can always negotiate your merit aid package. If you are accepted to multiple schools, and your first choice is more expensive than your second choice, call the school to negotiate. If you rank high academically, or are an asset to the institution in any way, some schools are willing to match the price of the other school.

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Last Reviewed: January 2020