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Merit Scholarships Make Private Colleges More Affordable

In an effort to avoid losing students to lower-cost public schools, private colleges have been increasing merit-based aid in recent years, with a majority of private colleges awarding scholarships or grants based on merit.

In 2018, the average institutional tuition discount rate reached a record high of nearly 50 percent among private colleges, meaning that their families are paying only half of the regular tuition rate. While the Ivies and other elite schools put their resources into need-based rather than merit aid, many highly selective colleges that are trying to compete for top students do offer non-need based scholarships.

Merit scholarships are especially helpful in attracting students whose families don’t qualify for need-based financial aid but are unable or unwilling to pay more than $50,000 a year for college. Highly selective colleges that offer merit scholarships include Davidson College, Emory University, Washington University and University of Southern California. These scholarships are very competitive, and students need to have outstanding academic records and test scores.

Applicants may be required to write additional scholarship essays and may need to interview on campus. Some scholarships also consider demonstrated leadership and community service. Other colleges offer guaranteed scholarships, so if you have met a specified grade point average and test score, you will get a scholarship. Students who are National Merit Scholarship finalists are guaranteed scholarships at some schools. If you have reasonably good grades and test scores, and are willing to consider colleges that are not as well-known, you are likely to end up with some scholarship offers.

Scholarships are generally renewable for three additional years, as long as you maintain the required grade point average. Students who can afford to attend a private college without taking on huge debt may find that the educational experience is much more personal and engaging, and well worth the extra cost. You are more likely to find a student-centered environment, more meaningful interactions with professors and more access to support services at a smaller private college than at a large public institution.

At a time when many public universities are cutting classes and student services, having strong academic advising and support can enable students to successfully complete their degree requirements in four years.

In addition to saving the cost of a fifth year in college, graduating in four years means students start working and earning money earlier. So don’t let the sticker price of private colleges keep you from applying; they may be more affordable than you think.


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