Financial Aid

What You Need to Know About Merit-Based Financial Aid

Answers to merit-based aid questions include: What is it? Does every school offer it? Will I receive it every year? How do I apply for it? What else should I know about it?
A student studying

While most financial aid is offered based on the financial need of students and their families, there is another category of aid called merit-based financial aid. Similar to need-based financial aid, merit-based aid can have a significant impact in reducing total college costs and making the sticker price of a college more favorable. Get to know the facts about merit-based aid below.

What is merit-based financial aid?

Merit-based financial aid (also called merit scholarships or merit awards) is financial aid offered in recognition of student achievements (e.g. academic, athletic, artistic, etc.). Unlike need-based financial aid, merit-based financial aid does not consider the financial need of the student or family. Most merit- based aid is awarded directly by colleges and universities, but not all colleges and universities offer merit-based aid (see below).

Does every college/university offer merit-based financial aid?

Unfortunately, no. Not every college offers merit-based financial aid. And, for those colleges that do, offering practices vary significantly between colleges. So, if you are applying to five colleges and three of them offer merit-based financial aid, you will (most likely) see three very different merit-based financial aid offer amounts (and any of them could, of course, be zero).

Will I receive merit-based financial aid every year I'm enrolled?

It depends. Most merit-based financial aid is renewable, meaning you will receive the scholarship every year as long as you meet the minimum scholarship requirements (e.g. maintain a certain GPA, enrollment status, etc.). If you are offered any merit-based financial aid, be sure to check with the financial aid office regarding any renewable requirements.

How do I apply for merit-based financial aid?

At some institutions, you will be considered for merit-based financial aid "automatically" after you apply for admission and are being considered for acceptance. However, some institutions will have separate applications, with their own deadlines and requirements (e.g. essay, letter of recommendation, etc.) to be considered for merit-based financial aid. This is especially true for bigger scholarships and awards.

What else should I know about merit-based financial aid?

Although most merit-based aid comes directly from colleges and universities, there are some state programs that offer merit-based aid. For any Massachusetts residents, one such award is the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. Along the same lines, some outside scholarship organizations will offer scholarships in recognition of student achievements, so make sure to read any scholarship guidelines closely.

When making your college list, create a separate column for those schools that offer merit-based financial aid. In the end, it could play a role in your ability to attend a particular institution and avoid, or at least lessen, your student loan debt.

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