Jill Haley: How to get need based aid & merit aid from colleges
In the college financial aid world there are two types of financial aid: need-based and merit aid.
Need based is aid that is determined by income and assets of either the student’s parents or the independent student themselves. Merit aid is based on what the student has accomplished and is independent of finances.
Merit aid is often tied to a students’ GPA and test scores. Merit aid is also given to students who show outstanding leadership or talent in the arts or debate.
In general, the more impacted a college is the less likely they are to offer merit aid. The most highly-selective colleges such as the Ivy Leagues and Stanford do not offer institutional merit aid. They are however very generous with need based aid.
There are many private colleges that do give merit aid. Colleges that give the most merit aid are those that are located away from the two coasts and are not name brands.
Many are small liberal arts colleges where students can get a terrific education and graduate with little or no debt.
Although California universities (UC) are impacted, there are states whose colleges and universities do not meet their admission goals. These colleges often give merit aid to try to entice California students.
Colleges in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) give reductions in college tuition to students in neighboring western states. A great selling point for WUE is that the reduction in tuition is not based on family income.
Most colleges that participate in the WUE program have GPA and test score requirements. All eligible students are granted the WUE.
Some colleges such as the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) have two-tiered merit aid for CA residents. One merit scholarship, Nevada Advantage, reduces tuition by $7,700 per academic year if students have a 3.0 GPA and 1100 on the SAT college admissions test.
The WUE scholarship saves about $11,000 per academic year on tuition and requires a student to have a 3.25 GPA and a 1240 on the SAT.
Not all colleges in neighboring states participate. Both the University of Oregon and the University of Washington have declined to participate because their campuses are impacted with their own residents. Some colleges also restrict certain majors from WUE discounts.
To find out how much merit aid you might be eligible for at each college, use net-price calculators. Net-price calculators can be found on each college website and can give you an idea how much you will pay for one year based on income and other factors such as grades and test scores.
Another good resource is College Board’s Big Future (bigfuture.collegeboard.org) which gives both need based and merit based information on colleges in the US.
To find colleges that have the best merit aid, you may need to cast a wider net when making your college list. Look outside of California and at schools that are not on everyone’s radar.
It pays to do the research. Last year, students in the US received an average of $14,000 dollars per year in financial aid.
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