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The Truth About Merit and Full Ride Scholarships

Don't read this blog post if your family income is below $120,000. If your family falls below that income, chances are likely that the financial aid gods of the college world will be generous and their offers will be favorable. You would be getting what's dubbed "need-based financial aid and scholarship". The majority of colleges will meet your financial needs to attend their college, either through student loans (upcoming blog post) or merit scholarships. Typically, this means earning less than $120,000 per year and owning practically nothing (no assets or you're heavily mortgaged). Isn't it Harvard University that claims if your family income is less than $80,000, if you can get in, you go for FREE? Yeah!

Realistic Numbers

So, this blog post is for the rest of you; the upper middle class families and above that get to pay the full tuition bill, including room and board and fees. YAY! (Actually, if you do fall into this category and your target college is not need-blind, it could potentially increase your chances of acceptance.) So, how much are we talking about here? As with anything, it depends on the college, but I can offer ranges to give an idea of what to expect. Prepare yourselves. Typically, for a reputable public university that is out-of-state, costs for tuition, room and board, and student fees could run between $38,000 - $66,000 (U of MI) per year. That's why, if you're living in Ohio, The Ohio State University is at an in-state cost of $27,000 per year! That's a hard one to pass up. But, so is Indiana University if you live in Indiana; so is University of Michigan if you live in Michigan. In today's weird and strange economy, it's a tough offer to pass up, staying in-state, especially if it's a state school with some credentials like the ones mentioned. The private institutions are even more shocking. For tuition, room and board, and student fees, an elite private college could run you between $55,000 - $84,000 per year. These numbers are sticker price (more like st$cker shock!), but you'd be surprised how many families and students don't qualify for any "discounts" off these numbers! Sure, the colleges give the song and dance about ignoring those numbers, that 60% of their students receive some sort of discount. That college info session will brag about their endowments and how much money they have to give. But, that money is not allocated for the upper middle class and beyond families. It's okay if you are doubting my words, but don't say I didn't warn you about the realities of your future situation.

Merit Scholarships

I know what you're thinking, I do. You're thinking you're at the top of your class. You're thinking you got a perfect ACT or SAT score, that you're a National Merit Finalist. You're also thinking MERIT SCHOLARSHIP! Sure! That's great! But if you're competing for a spot at highly selective colleges, you're actually looking like every other viable candidate. Again, this post is NOT talking about need-based merit scholarships - that's an entirely different animal. But, if you're thinking you have the potential to be offered a merit scholarship from your dream school, let's continue on that path. Did you know there are MANY highly selective schools that DO NOT offer scholarships based on merit alone? Schools like Carnegie Mellon University, Northwestern University, all the Ivies; unless you demonstrate financial need, you could be the top student in the world, and you won't get a "merit" scholarship because they just don't give them out. Think about it: the students who do get accepted into those schools are ALL merited! You can't choose the best among the best. Keep this in mind when choosing where you'll be applying during your senior year. The numbers are real. Do your research and be realistic in what your family can support in your academic endeavors.

So, how about the highly selective schools that DO offer merit scholarships? What kind of numbers are we talking about, then? In my experience, my clients have been able to earn between $5,000 - $32,000 per year off the sticker price of the college (either public or private) by earning a merit scholarship. A public institution that's out-of-state could be in the $35,000 - $45,000 range with merit scholarship. Still, a private institution could run you $50,000 per year, even with a merit scholarship. To be truthful, if you could pay $50,000 or less for a private, reputable university, you are doing VERY well! Again, this includes tuition, room and board, and first-year student fees. Any and all colleges have this information on their websites. Just Google Colgate Tuition, for example, to see the numbers - but sit down before you hit enter.

The Full Ride Scholarship

I hear your thoughts. You're thinking, "My cousin's best friend's girlfriend's brother got a FULL RIDE SCHOLARSHIP, and they're rich! How'd that happen?" I've worked with several wealthy clients whose children received full ride merit-only based scholarships. Full ride merit scholarships happen to "wealthy" kids when they are the cream of the crop on campus. Typically, what this means is they have accepted an invitation to attend a school that falls well below where they could have attended instead. That's not to say that the school is low ranking in general. It just means that the school who offered the full ride scholarship is more than likely the student's safety school, not their reach school. The school wants you and your credentials so badly on their campus, they're willing to pay YOU to attend. Of course, athletic recruiting at D1 schools regarding full ride scholarships is not the same thing, nor the topic of this blog post, but similar in idea and concept. Schools want the best players, either on or off the field, to help them be better, rise to the top, and they do this by offering full rides to the best they have in their applicant pool, enticing them by fully paying for a college education. Win-win if you like the school, regardless of it being "below" where you could have gone otherwise.

If you've chosen your best-fit colleges appropriately, then any college on your list, regardless of being a reach, 50/50, or safety school, should be your first-choice school! Last week's post talks about this, check it out!

Be smart with your money. Know what you're getting and weigh your options against what's important to you in a college education and your college journey. Stay the course.

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