Maximizing Merit Money

Question: What suggestions do you have for maximizing merit and grant aid? We've been careful to focus on colleges where my daughter is at or above the 75th percentile. She's a rising senior with a 29 ACT, 3.7wGPA and strong sport and volunteer ECs. The net price calculators make me think that 2 or 3 thousand dollar difference in merit/grant aid will make a big difference to us. As we plan for senior year, should we contact schools proactively to discuss our situation or wait until after acceptance or after awards or let the chips fall? My daughter's school is very rigorous (top ACT scores in the state, strict curriculum, and USNews gold) but not known to the schools where she will apply. Should we do anything to help colleges consider her high school? Thanks for your thoughts.

You've already figured out the most critical piece of the merit-aid puzzle (and it is a puzzle indeed … a Chinese puzzle, perhaps, perplexing at times to even the most seasoned college counselors). By focusing your search on schools where your daughter's grades and test scores put her at or above the 75th percentile, you will most likely land in merit-money territory. The vast majority of colleges, especially private ones, do offer some sort of non-need-based aid to lure their most sought-after candidates. And typically the colleges that offer only need-based assistance are the uber-selective places where your daughter's acceptance (based on the GPA and ACT score you supplied) isn't likely. (We're taking about Ivies, Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, etc.)

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