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Financial Matters: Maximizing Merit Aid

Although many middle-class and upper income families will not qualify for need based aid, they still may find the cost of attendance at most private colleges intimidating. Have you ever wondered what you can do to improve your chances of getting merit aid from a college?

An intriguing study from the University of Rochester in New York may hold some clues. Jonathan Burdick, their Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, analyzed the characteristics of students who received merit awards from Rochester. He looked at specific applicant characteristics to see which ones make a difference in the size of a student’s merit scholarship offer:

Rigorous high school courses. For every AP, IB, or Honors course a student took in high school, his or her merit award at Rochester increased an average of $400.Grades in core academic courses. Every “A” grade in a core academic course in high school translated into an extra $62 of merit money.

Test scores. For every 10 additional points students scored on the SAT, they received an average of an extra $115. For every 1 point on the ACT composite, they earned an average of $425 extra in merit money.

Interviewing. Students who scheduled an admissions interview with the University of Rochester received, on average, $250 more in merit money. Students who pro-actively kept in touch with admissions and financial aid—even after they were admitted—were likely to receive an average of $3,000 more in merit money.

Teacher recommendations. Every teacher letter of recommendation that the admissions committee rated as “excellent” correlated with an average of $1,800 more in merit awards.

Being on time. Students who had all parts of their application into admissions on time (including mid-year grade requests) earned an average of $400 more in merit money.

Applying for financial aid. Regardless of their actual financial need, students who filled out the FAFSA and CSS Profile financial aid applications received, on average, $2,500 more in merit money.

Geographic diversity. Out of state students received an average of $2,000 more in merit money at Rochester than in-state students.

Burdick’s data were specific to the University of Rochester, and in sharing his findings, he was careful to point out that some of the differences were not by conscious design. Still, students hoping for merit scholarships at other colleges would be wise to take these findings to heart.

Grades, high school courses, test scores, teacher recommendations, and personal contact with colleges don’t just matter to your admissions chances; they may very well make a difference in how large a merit scholarship you are offered when admitted.

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