According to MONEY Magazine, 3 Ways to Get More College Merit Aid, the percentage of students receiving merit aid has tripled in the past 20 years. In 2014-15, approximately two-thirds of full-time students paid for college with grants and scholarships. Approximately 57 percent of financial aid dollars awarded to undergraduates was in the form of grants. They tend to be more available at private schools.

State schools do not typically offer merit scholarships. According to the MONEY Magazine’s List of The 46 Best Colleges for Getting Big Merit Scholarships, only about 9% received scholarships. A few exceptions are making the effort to use merit scholarships to lure more out-of-state students, i.e., Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina.

Colleges that typically have a 20% acceptance rate have only 7% receiving merit aid. At schools where at least a third of their students received merit aid, the average acceptance rate was 61%. Ultimately, it’s usually the lesser known schools that offer the most merit grant money. Furman University accepts two-thirds of its applicants and half receive merit money.

Such schools are not necessarily of lesser quality. For instance, Loyola’s average SAT is 1340; ACT is 26; and average GPA 3.7. Loyola gives 27 percent of its incoming freshmen merit scholarships and the average amount is $15,511. When you look at the federal statistics, Loyola awards 94 percent of its freshmen institutional grants and/or scholarships.

What seems to be the stand out criterion for receiving merit aid?  Four out of five colleges use standardized test scores as the basis for merit scholarships. This means that students who score in the top 10 percent of test-takers – around 1340 on the SAT and 28 on the ACT – can expect to be offered merit scholarships as large as $28,000 a year! Merit scholarships are also available for students scoring lower but who score beyond the median score requirement of a particular school.

Also, make sure your teen has the highest GPA possible. Remember, it’s the UNWEIGHTED GPA that matters for most merit based scholarships. Rigor of classes is a factor, but if a student is struggling and getting a  ‘C’ in an AP course, it’s better to drop it. Bottom line, it’s about getting more ‘A’s’.

If you go to most colleges’ websites, you will notice a “net cost calculator” which lets students see how much they would need to pay out of pocket to attend. A student who has entered his profile and only changes nothing but his ACT or SAT test score can see the scholarship money increase as their scores rise.  SAT score increases of 100-200 points or 4-5 points on the ACT can translate into thousands of dollars in merit aid.

Take for example the out of state student who applies to Indiana University – one of the approximately 100 schools that presently superscores the ACT*. (Superscoring occurs when a college takes the highest subscores from various test dates to get a new higher score.)  Let’s assume he has a GPA of 3.8 and a 30 on his ACT.  This provides him with $5000 in merit aid per year.  If he takes the ACT again and goes up just 1 point, that will translate into $11,000 per year – more than twice the difference! (*Most colleges superscore the SAT.)

Another example is the student who had a very strong GPA and was planning on majoring in engineering. On his first attempt on the SAT, he scored 1340.  He was advised to invest in SAT coaching and when he retook the exam, he scored 1450. That 110 overall point improvement enabled him to receive a $112,000 in merit scholarship to Tulane University.

The bottom line is that improving test scores can translate into significant merit aid. Colleges believe that students with higher test scores will be stronger students, more likely to get higher grades, and more likely to graduate in four years. Admitting higher scoring students helps the college rank higher as well look a lot more selective, thereby ultimately attracting more top students. Clearly a win/win.

Want to get some merit aid for your teen?  The first step may be to contact BreakThrough Test Prep  to ensure those higher test scores. As you have just learned, your ROI (return on investment) in a solid test prep program could potentially be worth thousands of dollars.

I look forward to the opportunity of working with your teen!      

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