Ivy League Merit Aid Scholarship: Am I Eligible?

Is it possible to receive Ivy League merit aid? The answer to this question is very important because it will have a huge impact on how much a student pays for college. Below I list highly selective colleges that offer primarily need-baed scholarships (no merit aid) and highly selective colleges that offer some merit aid.

 If you feel that you are not very well-educated about the financial aid process, I highly recommend The Financial Aid Handbook by Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik and The College Solution by Lynn O' Shaughnessy. Both of these books are great resources for helping parents at all income levels pay less for college.

What is Merit Aid?

Many students and parents are confused by the term "merit aid", but the simple answer is "merit" scholarships are based on test scores and GPA (academics) and "need-based" financial aid is based on family income. Although the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges are very committed to making sure that finances are not an obstacle to education, most of these colleges ONLY give "need-based" not "merit" scholarships.

Which Selective Colleges Do NOT Give Merit Aid?

Below are colleges that have committed to using financial aid funds ONLY for those with demonstrated financial need. These colleges provide great financial aid packages for those who qualify based on financial need, but do NOT give out Ivy League merit aid, which is based solely on academic achievement (like GPA or SAT score or ACT score). 

Ivy League Merit Aid Unlikely

Below is a list of highly selective colleges that do NOT offer Ivy League merit aid scholarships. Financial support will be based ONLY on financial need (mostly family income), not the academic qualifications of the student. 

  1. Yale
  2. Harvard
  3. U Penn
  4. Columbia
  5. MIT
  6. Cornell
  7. Georgetown
  8. Pomona
  9. Williams
  10. Amherst
  11. Haverford
  12. Wellesley
  13. Colgate
  14. Middlebury
  15. Bates
  16. Barnard
  17. Vassar
  18. Thomas Aquinas
  19. Holy Cross
  20. Connecticut College

Keep in mind that, with a few exceptions, most colleges, except the most highly selective ones, give out some form of merit aid scholarships. Unfortunately, just not typically Ivy League merit aid scholarships. Colleges use "merit" scholarships to attract the best and brightest students to their campuses.

Since the Ivy League already attracts the best and brightest minds, and most families are willing to pay the more expensive cost of attendance, so there is no need to "entice" students with merit scholarships. Instead, the colleges above use financial aid funds to offer traditional "need-based" financial aid.

What Are My Other Options?

First, if you are disappointed that you may not qualify for Ivy League merit aid, then you must expand your options. Even if you still plan to apply to the Ivy League, you must realize that it will be extremely hard to gain admission, almost impossible. Does that mean you should not apply? Absolutely not. If you feel you have the academic, testing, and extracurricular profile of an Ivy League student, definitely put your hat in the ring, BUT make sure you have a really good second-tier plan.

What I strongly suggest is to target colleges that give out "merit-aid" scholarships to a substantial percentage of students. If you already feel that you have the academic profile to attend the Ivy League, then you should be a very good candidate for "merit-based" scholarship at some very good schools -- such as Oberlin, Tulane, SMU and Trinity (TX)-- just to name a few. If you add several of these types of colleges to your list, then you can probably attend a highly selective private college for the similar cost of a state college (maybe even less) if you are in the top 25% of all admits.

Biggest Financial Aid Mistake

Well, you might think I am biased here, but the number one biggest financial aid mistake is not investing enough resources (time, energy, money) into raising SAT and ACT scores. Very few parents (and school counselors) are educated on the huge financial advantages of raising test scores in order to qualify for merit aid. For example, a student that scored an ACT Composite 28 (versus 25) might qualify for a tuition reduction of $10,000+/year at many schools with average ACT scores 25-26 range. Same goes for the SAT, just 100-150+ points could translate into thousands of saved dollars down the road.

Remember: These are tuition reductions, not student loans, so students with higher scores receive a deep discount on the cost of college. Spending $1000-2000+ for test prep to save $40,000+ seems more reasonable in the big picture. If $1000 is our of your budget, create your own self-study program for the ACT or New SAT with good materials. Whatever you do, study, study, study and take the tests at least 2-3 times.

The Second Biggest Mistake

 The second biggest mistake is not including enough variety in the types of colleges in building the college application list. Often, the college list is too stratified: Ivy League or State Universities. Frequently, I hear parents say that I only want to pay the big bucks for the Ivy League, otherwise my son or daughter will attend a state university to save money. Sound familiar? These parents (and students) do not spend enough time researching the colleges that they will be targeting (and the different costs of attendance). And this applies not only for the "super-smart" but for all types of students.

For example, I recently helped a student increase her SAT score from 1590-1810, and because of that increase, I told Katie she might be a candidate for "merit aid" (free money basically) from a private college, but she and her parents were skeptical. Her parents thought her SAT score and GPA (3.89) was not strong enough for a merit scholarship, so her parents, who did not qualify for need-based financial aid, wanted Katie to only apply to state colleges. 

Katie really wanted to go to college in the San Francisco area, so she decided upon UC-Santa Cruz, San Franciso State University, or University of San Francisco (a private, Catholic College). Her parents were nervous about her applying to USD, a private college, but I felt she was a good candidate for a merit scholarship, and I was right! Her cost of attendance at the private college would now be the same as if she had attended UC-Santa Cruz, a state school. 

If this college admission strategy can work for Katie, then it can work for everyone

The Third Biggest Mistake

The third most common mistake is to NOT apply for need-based financial aid. That's right. Many parents falsely believe that their family income is too high to qualify for need-based financial aid. The qualifications for this type of financial aid is based on several factors, including size of family, number of children attending college, and cost of tuition.

To make sure you are considered for financial aid, just "click" the box on the application that asks if you would like to apply for financial aid. After that, you will need to fill out a PROFILE or FAFSA form (which can be time consuming ,so be prepared). Also, colleges are now required to have "net-price" calculators on their websites to help determine if your student would indeed qualify for merit and/or need-based aid.

Ivy League Merit Aid for International Students

International students must grapple with less financial resources and additional financial challenges when applying to college in the United States as an international student. International students are not eligible for Ivy League Merit Aid and other types of financial aid including federally subsidized student loans, grants, and some scholarships. If you are an international student looking for additional financial resources for attending college in the United States, I recommend reading an Megan Dorsey's excellent blog post.

Financial Aid Resources

Still not sure of the differences between types of college scholarships? Are you wondering whether or not your ACT or SAT score is good enough for non - Ivy League merit aid? Read my overview on the role of test scores and merit aid in college admissions to educate yourself about this little understood aspect of college admissions. If you are looking for more resources about Ivy League merit aid and other financial aid questions, I highly recommend The Financial Aid Handbook and The College Solution. These two books could save you thousands of dollars.

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