This money is meant to entice you to enroll. (A general rule of thumb: the more a college wants you, the more merit aid it is likely to offer.)
As merit aid has nothing to do with a family’s financial need, some consider it “financial aid for affluent families”; however, with the rising cost of college, only the wealthiest families today can absorb the full cost of a college education without difficulty. In The Princeton Review’s most recent College Hopes and Worries survey, 86 percent of students and parents reported that financial aid would be “very” or “extremely” necessary to help them pay for a college education.
So merit aid is a worthwhile pursuit for most students. However, it’s important to note that not all colleges offer it, and those that do offer it have different amounts to give.
How can you find the colleges that give the most merit aid? Back in the summer, I posted about an interactive feature from the New York Times that allows students to sort an extensive list of colleges based on the percent of freshmen who receive merit-based aid and the average amount of merit aid they receive. This is a great starting point for identifying schools that offer substantial merit aid.
In addition to this resource, Todd Johnson at CollegeAdmissionsPartners.com recommends the Collegedata search engine, which allows you to search for colleges according to the percent of enrolled students (both with and without financial need) that receive merit aid.
Additionally, Sara Zessar at Montgomery Educational Consulting suggests the Cappex website for research on merit aid at colleges. While this site requires you to create an account, it offers some very cool information—e.g., the requirements for and dollar amounts of specific merit scholarships offered at every college in its database.