A Look at 11 Merit Scholarship Offers


I am especially happy to share another set of merit scholarship awards that a teenager (this one from Georgia) earned. If you missed the first set of offers from a teenager in the Pacific Northwest that I shared in my last college blog post, you can find them here:

 A Teenager’s Merit Scholarship Offers

I was particularly psyched to receive the awards from the Georgia teenager because the schools that she applied to were primarily located in the South.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, you’ll find many of the best value schools in the South, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and interior West.

Even I was surprised, however, at how reasonable the prices were after the merit scholarships were subtracted! The lowest priced school was Goucher College which came in at a mere $14,346!

This teenager’s awards also illustrate another admission reality:  an applicant is more likely to receive better financial aid or merit awards if they are academically in the top third to the top quarter of the applicants.

Georgia Teenager’s Awards

shair 1


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Background on the Georgia Teenager

Here is what the Georgia teenager’s mom shared about her daughter:

My daughter applied to 12 schools, one state school which is not listed on the College Abacus, so I couldn’t do the calculations.  The cost of it was about $13,000.

My calculations for transportation are not official for the school.  I put in $500 for schools close by, $750 for medium distance and $1,500 for those far away, where my daughter would fly (she will come home a few times a year, more than most).

Expected Family Contribution

Our Expected Family Contribution is a little over $29,000, but is far more than what we can realistically pay, since my husband is nearing retirement age, and we have a son who is in technical school and though 24, will still be going to school for 2 more years.

My daughter is a good student (I think 3.85 unweighted GPA) with 5 AP’s, 1 Honors, 1 dual-enrollment class, numerous extra-curriculars including tennis, a volunteer experience in Chile this past summer, and leadership in a few clubs.

She received merit scholarships from all the schools except the state school.  There she qualifies for our Georgia Zell Miller Award, which is full tuition, but does not cover the ever increasing “fees”, and of course, not room and board.

Berry College offered $14,500, which was lowest, but the Zell Miller state grant for private schools is $4,000 and private schools get a tuition equalization grant of 700, making the total $19,200.

Her First College Choice


Goucher College

Her first choice was Wofford College, and even though they met our EFC, it was very disappointing, as she was selected for Wofford Scholars and had visited 5 times, including overnight. Not sure what to think about that.

She has decided on Goucher, where she received a full tuition scholarship. Her dad and I were a little anxious about it, due to their fairly low graduation rate in 4 years, but after visiting, I feel she made the right choice for her.

I think some of Goucher’s graduation rate is due to their accepted B to B+ students who don’t have a clue what they want to do. They have many General Ed requirements, but some classes count for 2 areas.  I think you must choose classes carefully.

Our daughter decided long ago that she loves Biology,and taking AP Bio now, so will enter on a pre-med/pre Physician Assistant track (what she really wants). Goucher also allows 16 credits to transfer from other schools with pre-approval (the science profs said no problem to taking math classes, etc. in the summer to transfer in).

I wanted to get your opinion about the graduation rate and the school in general?

After visiting many schools (I lost count…at least 15), Lindsay decided she wanted a metropolitan area. She knows if she goes over the 4-year mark, the nearly $20,000 a semester is on her.

My Thoughts

Congratulations on your daughter’s impressive haul of merit scholarships.

Goucher’s graduation rate (60%) is lower than many selective liberal arts colleges. (Among all private non-profit colleges and universities,  Goucher’s grad rate ranks it in the 78th percentile.)

One reason for Goucher’s lower grad rate is it’s freshmen retention rate (83%) which is also lower than many liberal arts colleges. Since freshmen who leave the school are officially counted as never having graduated from their original institution, the grad rate looks artificially low. The grad rate for students who remain at Goucher will be higher. I doubt that your daughter will have any trouble graduating on time.

I pulled Goucher’s grad rate and freshmen retention rate from College Completion, a microsite within The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’d urge you to check it out when researching schools.


I would ask the school why 17% of freshman leave after their first year. You also would want to be confident that there will be enough students matching  your daughter’s academic caliber attending the school. How rigorous will the academics be for her? I suspect that wouldn’t be a problem if she’s in the pre-med track.

That is the potential trade-off that a teenager faces when she aims for schools that will give her their largest merit scholarships. To get those, you typically have to be better on paper than the vast majority of applicants. It’s a balancing act.

If anyone wants to chime in on this, please leave your comment in the box below.


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  1. The daughter of a friend of mine went to Goucher years ago, and loved it. She is a lawyer now. I must have loaned out the book, but I think it is mentioned in the book “College’s that change lives.” I think that is the name.

  2. Thanks for all the responses! My daughter liked Goucher the best of the remaining schools, and we are not worried about the academic rigor because the pre-med track is extremely challenging no matter where you attend. When we visited Goucher, we met many students who had been involved in high level research, including a summer opportunity between freshman and sophomore year. Many of the professors are highly accomplished. One professor we spoke to had a BS from Duke (where he formed his ideas on teaching at a small liberal arts college) and PhD from MIT. His lab and publication experience is extensive, and includes working for a Nobel Prize winner and is currently doing cancer research. Another professor in the department had graduated from Williams, a highly selective liberal arts college, a third had taught at Williams (hated how competitive it was and said students sabotaged each others’ experiments), a fourth graduated from Harvard and UC Berkeley. Wendy (above) hit the nail on the head….it is about where the student will be able to excel and have a competitive GPA, which is what Physician Assistant schools care about, in addition to volunteering and shadowing experiences, and GRE test scores. Yes, she will need to have high scores on the GRE or MCAT (if she decides to go to medical school instead), but I think you can achieve all of that without having to put yourself into debt and completely stress yourself competing for grades with scores of other extremely bright students. My daughter has had to work extremely hard in high school, as her school is very rigorous and she has ADHD, which to me, makes her accomplishments even more special. Her school assigns work in the summer for gifted, honors and AP classes, and virtually every break period. She recently commented that she had not had a real break from school in 4 years. So, while we want her to succeed in life and also have academic rigor, we also want her to experience college life and have time to volunteer, as she speaks fluent Spanish (not her native language) and she is hoping to have time to devote to that. Price was not the only factor in her decision, which is what I feared people would think when they saw her awards. In addition to the above, the required Study Abroad, friendliness of the faculty and students, and the fact that Goucher is in a metropolitan area where internships, shadowing and volunteering opportunities abound, factored into her decision. We did not contact Wofford, other than to send her letter of declination. I was aware that schools often offer less to those students they think will attend anyway, but she decided that maybe Wofford was not the place she was meant to be. I do feel that she will stand out from the crowd more at Goucher than Wofford. With her rigorous academics, she has dropped to 11-12% in class ranking, rather than the top 10%, so I feel that is probably why a larger scholarship was not offered from Wofford. Her ACT was 31, which helped, but is not competitive at many of the “top” schools, but is at those schools where she applied.

    1. Thanks for the story, Shari.

      I know I have a bit before my daughter decides, but I have found Goucher to be an intriguing school.

      All the best to your daughter!

    2. Shari and Wendy (and Lynn of course!) you ALL hit the NAIL RIGHT ON THE HEAD!

      IF graduate school is an option scholarships is needed before having debt that our children SIMPLY CAN’T AFFORD! And as a parent, I’m not willing to incur THAT much debt ($400K to $500K for undergrad + Medical School)

      And truly, it does depend on what your child wants to major in- my son is also a Pre-Med major, and YES the Pre=Med track will be difficult and challenging PERIOD.
      Every school we looked at has a Pre-Med major, and many students start there,
      and end up changing majors- really quickly.

      We did the same thing that you did Shari, pick a school where my son could get a great scholarship (and he did) as well as work really hard to get the best grades, internships, Spanish for health professionals, plus they have a Scribe program, Medical Honors Society, and this university has treated their TOP scholars incredibly well….this school truly pours so much into these new Ambassador’s for this school!

      We intentionally did all of this prepare him to get into a FABULOUS Medical School (we are hoping a University of CA Medical School)….. We did not even apply at 1 top US News and World Reports school, etc. We wanted him to be a big fish in a small pond.
      Especially because Pre-Med is so difficult and competitive.

      I know that for our family, our son is at the PERFECT school, at the right price and has a great future ahead for him! We couldn’t be more excited!

      All the best to your daughter and your family Shari! I try not to think that we have to go thru all of this again, but I told my son- he’s doing it with his counselor’s at school this time!!! The JOURNEY was WELL WORTH IT!

      And again, thank you Lynn for your SAGE advice!

  3. Lynn, I did a little checking. Goucher had a class of 412 freshmen who entered in Fall ’11 according to College Navigator. The difference between a 90 percent retention rate and an 83 percent retention rate at such a small school was 31 students. That would be an understandable loss for a private liberal arts school that was not known to be generous with aid.

  4. Completely agree about the balancing act between academic caliber and affordability. Our story with my oldest daughter is similar to this one, but ultimately she decided she liked the lowest cost school the best anyway. It has a similar profile to Goucher as far as selectivity, freshman retention and graduation rate. We have worried about whether she will be academically challenged there. What did it for us was the honors college that is offered and will comprise 25 – 33% of her classes. We know that those will be challenging for her, but we worry about the rest. I see that Goucher doesn’t offer an honors program, so I guess a school like that would concern me more on the overall level of academic challenge.

    Ultimately, nobody has a crystal ball and can reassure us that our students have made the best possible choice, but I have to believe that they will be better off in the long run by not amassing a large amount of debt at the undergraduate level, especially if they go on to med school, law school or other graduate programs. Plus, if graduate school is in their future, it will be more important that they excelled in their undergraduate work and took advantage of every opportunity they could, than that they attended a top-tier school that cost a lot more.

    1. Wendy – The students who I worry about are not the ones who spend a lot of time and effort looking for and evaluating schools. I suspect it’s generally the students who put little thought into the process and pick schools for poor reasons that have trouble. I’m thinking about reasons such as their girl/boyfriend is attending the school, a parent is an alma mater, the football/basketball team is hot etc.

      Good luck to your daughter!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    2. I agree whole-heartledly Wendy.

      At the end of the day you try to guide your child to help them avoid making patently poor decisions when choosing a school. The rest is a combination of luck and the efforts of your child.

  5. I, too, was curious about Goucher and the academic rigor.

    I think in general schools with high acceptance rates have lower graduation rates as not all high school graduates are ready for the responsibilites that college brings.

    My main goal is not for my daughter to have the cheapest education possible, but the best education possible both in quality and value.

  6. Hi Lynn,

    Schools are known for offering less money if they think you are REALLY interested in attending their school (enrollment management’s dark side). This might be what happened at Wofford. Yes, let them know about your alternative school.

    12 apps, 3 full tuition awards (UW – Seattle, L&C, Northeastern), top Merit Awards (Scripps & MHC), and very good merit and F/A from the rest. My intransigent daughter would not consider anything outside the west coast and NE. But, fortunately, she will be (hopefully) attending a highly selective LAC in an out of the way place … if her “fly-in” this weekend goes as anticipated.

    Many thanks Lynn for your books & blog. I received great information and incite into the whole process. The last 3 years have been a real education!

    1. Thanks for sharing Dan and congratulations! Your daughter has some excellent options. I am glad my book and blog helped in a small way. Good luck to your daughter!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  7. Also, did the mom share with Wofford the other offers, especially from Goucher, using the techniques recommended by an expert you wrote about the other day, Lynne?

  8. I do have a friend who is transferring from Goucher this year, and cited the low retention rate. I would encourage this person to look at Unigo and Cappex ratings.

  9. Low retention rates are often the result of inadequate financial aid packages. A quick check on collegeboard shows that Goucher financial aid packages consist of about 3/4 in grants and 1/4 in loans / jobs, and that only 13% of undergrads have their full need met. College Navigator shows about 20% of Goucher students receive Pell Grants. Racking up substantial debt after one year leads many students to drop out or go somewhere that is cheaper.