Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA) outcomes will be arriving within several weeks. This is Thanksgiving week and families around the world, especially here in America, are hoping to give thanks for a generous financial aid package that will be arriving either with or shortly following the goods news of getting into a dream school. That good news can turn into disappointing news, however, if that aid package doesn’t meet a family’s needs.
Sometimes students are admitted to a dream college but then forced to turn the offer down due to finances. Believe it or not, those of you who come from low-income homes could be in better shape than many of your friends from middle- or higher-income brackets.
Why? Because the snazziest and most expensive colleges tend to be those with the most money to give away, but often these funds are earmarked for students from low-income families. This is the mission of so-called “need-based” financial aid.
But today, let’s consider so-called merit aid (also called “scholarships”). How does that work? More appropriately, how can you apply for it?
My College Confidential colleague, Sally Rubenstone, writes CC’s Ask the Dean column. She answers questions from students from around the globe about even the most complicated college admissions issues. If you have any questions about what can be a very confusing and frustrating process, please feel free to send your questions to Sally.
As I was reading through some advice Sally gave to a high school senior about merit aid, I thought it was wisdom worthy to share here on Admit This!. So, here it is:
Question: Many schools have merit-based scholarships. Am I automatically considered for them once I apply or do I have to submit a separate application?
– Check out FastWeb for scholarship ideas.
Here’s the link: www.fastweb.com
This is a no-cost way to access information about private scholarships for which you may be eligible. The online questionnaire takes about 10 or 15 minutes to complete. You’ll find that the majority of resulting scholarships tend to be in the $500 to $1,000 range, though there are some big ones on the list, too. Needless to say, the greater the award, the more competition you’ll face. Keep in mind, however, that in most cases, the best financial aid comes from colleges themselves in the form of need-based or merit-based grants.
Once you fill out the FastWeb questionnaire, you will receive periodic email updates about new scholarships and reminders about upcoming deadlines. FastWeb is free and completely legitimate, so fill out that questionnaire now!
– Look for merit-aid colleges.
The Web site www.meritaid.com is another place to look for money, particularly for lists of colleges where you are likely to qualify for merit aid. Merit aid is money that comes right from the colleges and is usually based on academic strength and typically not tied to financial need. If you don’t have official SAT scores yet, I suggest that you hold off on using these scholarship-search sites until you do.
– Use the College Board Matchmaker at to find colleges that match your preferences for size, location, majors, extracurriculars, etc. Follow up on unfamiliar colleges that this search engine generates by reading their profiles, visiting their Web sites, and checking them out in one of the anecdotal guides named above. The College Board site also provides a very helpful roundup of info about each college–everything from size to majors offered to cost, average test scores, etc., all in one handy place. It can take hours to find that kind of stuff on individual college Web sites.
– Check out College Confidential’s SuperMatch.
SuperMatch allows you to state the strength of you preference and doesn’t rule out every college that doesn’t meet it. For instance, if you say that you want an urban campus, but there’s a rural one that meets every single one of your other preferences, SuperMatch won’t automatically delete that college from your “Results” list, but it will tell you that it’s not a 100% match, and why.
This can be very helpful since most of us don’t really know what we truly want when we’re 17. The other plus of SuperMatch is that it allows you to search in some “subjective” categories. For instance, on SuperMatch—unlike on the College Board Matchmaker—you can look for party schools or non-party schools, for liberal campuses, great college towns, and other categories.
– Check out the College Confidential discussion forum for general admissions information as well as for threads that are dedicated to specific colleges. As with all reader-generated content, don’t expect everything to be 100 percent accurate!
Also, don’t be shy about talking to anyone you respect about their college knowledge. Chat with current seniors, favorite teachers, parents of your friends, etc. to see if they might put schools on your radar screen that weren’t there before. The more open-minded you can be, the better your chances of finding a great — affordable — fit become.
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