Chasing Merit: Financial Aid Driving the College Application Process

Financial aid is driving the college application process with the rising cost of attending college, and getting a degree is now more expensive than ever. Families from lower-income backgrounds are finding it harder to earn need-based financial aid since demand has become so high. Which in

Since need-based scholarships are becoming more scarce, it has pushed middle-income families out of the acceptance pool for these forms of financial aid. These families, along with those from upper-middle-class backgrounds, are grappling with the reality of paying full tuition, which can range from $70,000 to $80,000 a year for elite colleges.

Since financial aid is getting more difficult to qualify for, and families are hesitant to pay the large tuition price tags, students are now “chasing merit” when creating their college lists.

Chasing merit means prioritizing schools based on the likelihood of receiving a merit-based scholarship. Unlike need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships can be earned by students of all financial backgrounds.

These scholarships are given to those who earn good grades, receive high test scores, demonstrate leadership, excel in sports or music, and more.

Chasing merit is a great strategy for those looking to make college affordable, but in some cases, it can make it more difficult to secure a seat at the college you’d like to attend.

If you choose the chasing merit approach, you likely will eliminate the chance to apply to schools with Early Decision. Applying with Early Decision is a great way for students to gain an extra edge in the acceptance pool, and it makes a student’s chances of acceptance far more likely. If a student is accepted with Early Decision, they commit to attend that school regardless of their other acceptances.

The advantage here is that a college is more likely to accept you based on your commitment. However, colleges that offer Early Decision rarely offer extra scholarships because you must commit to attending if accepted, regardless of their scholarship offer (or lack thereof).

Although students may miss out on Early Decision, chasing merit may still be the best strategy for some families, so get prepared and start your research.

There aren’t consistent rules for merit-based scholarships, so it’s important to look at schools on an individual basis. Some schools have extremely high standards for merit-based financial aid, and highly selective colleges typically offer only need-based scholarships. This is due to demand and overwhelming application lists. However, there are private and public institutions that can be generous with the merit scholarships they award.

Students employing the chasing merit strategy must look up the specific merit scholarships offered by each college they apply to.

Usually, the admissions section of the university website is where this information is found. If you cannot find details about merit scholarships on the school’s website, this usually means that they only offer need-based financial aid or that merit scholarships are given rarely.

If this is the case, call the admissions office and ask for details and more information.

If you are chasing merit, don’t get discouraged if the school you want to attend doesn’t offer the scholarships you’re looking for. Meet with your Cultivate Coach today and discover other financial aid forms offered by third-party and community organizations.

We want you to attend your dream school, so let’s do everything possible to make that a reality while keeping your budget in mind!