The Guardian newspaper in London once published an article that suggested that children of upper-middle-class families are having to attend public universities because they are too affluent to receive need-based aid and they aren’t getting scholarship from private institutions.
What the reporter, who happens to be the wife of Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, didn’t seem to realize is that outside the East Coast bubble, there are plenty of colleges and universities that provide merit scholarships to students who don’t qualify for need-based financial aid.
The most elite schools on the East Coast, such as the Ivies, don’t give merit scholarships because they don’t have to. They enjoy high positions in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings so wealthy students will flock to them without price breaks.
No Merit Scholarship Schools
I only know of the following 23 schools that don’t award any merit scholarships. I have included the names below and in this course resource guide: Schools That Don’t Provide Merit Scholarships.
- Amherst College (MA)
- Bates College (ME)
- Brown University (RI)
- California Institute of Technology
- Colgate University (NY)
- Columbia University (NY)
- Dartmouth College (NH)
- Georgetown University (DC)
- Hamilton College (NY)
- Harvard University (MA)
- Haverford College (PA)
- Middlebury College (VT)
- Pomona College (CA)
- Princeton University (NJ)
- Reed College (OR)
- Stanford University (CA)
- Swarthmore College (PA)
- Tufts University (MA)
- University of Pennsylvania
- Vassar College (NY)
- Wellesley College (MA)
- Williams College (MA)
- Yale University (CT)
Modest Merit Scholarship Awards
It’s more usual for the most elite schools to provide modest scholarships to wealthy students and severely limit those they award.
Pitzer College, one of the prestigious Claremont (CA) schools, recently offered six high-income students scholarships worth an average of just $5,000 a piece. At Northwestern University 5% of freshmen recently received merit scholarships that averaged just $2,348.
Wesleyan University offers a different approach. The liberal arts college in Middletown, CTs, offered just six students out of a freshmen class of 744 a huge merit scholarship worth more than $48,000 a year.
Other Elite Schools Offering Small Merit Scholarships and Average Amount
- Bowdoin (ME) $1,000
- Colby College (ME) $500
- Carleton College (MN) $2,000
- Franklin and Marshall College $2,500
Merit Aid at Southern Schools
The most highly ranked schools in the South and Texas, however, are more likely to give larger merit scholarships than elsewhere in the country. I don’t have a definitive explanation for this, but I suspect a couple of reasons.
No.1: It can be harder to convince wealthy students from elsewhere in the country to attend schools in the South. A brand name school in Boston isn’t going to experience trouble attracting bright students from other regions, but it could be a harder sell for Vanderbilt, which is located in Nashville.
In alphabetical order, you’ll see the most highly ranked colleges and universities (according to U.S. News) in the South. I’ve included the number of merit scholarships each school offers its freshman, who have no financial aid, and the average, annual scholarship award.
- Davidson College, 24 merit scholarships, $21,747
- Duke University, 60 merit scholarships, $54,947
- Emory University, 49 merit scholarships, $17,850
- Rice University, 149 merit scholarships, $12,033
- Tulane University, 596 merit scholarships, $22,360
- Sewanee-University of the South, 93 merit scholarships, $20,968
- Vanderbilt University, 161 merit scholarships, $18,797 (see photo)
- University of Richmond, 52 merit scholarships, $39,785
Striking Out on Merit Aid
I once received an email from a mom/physician who was quite upset that her daughter, a National Merit Finalist, hadn’t received merit scholarships at any of the schools that she applied to including Washington University in St. Louis, Duke and the University of Chicago. The woman and her husband, who is also a physician, had saved $168,000 for college and had expected help with merit money. They didn’t appreciate just how difficult it can be for a high-income student to receive merit scholarships if they conduct a narrow college search.
You can read her heated email in this post that I wrote: An Angry Mom Rails Against Elite Colleges
I included my reactions to the family’s situation in this post: Different Scholarship Results for National Merit Finalists that I suggest you read. In my post I mention that wealthy students will receive merit aid at the vast majority of schools.
The “Angry Mom” post generated 170 comments and I think they are worth reading because they capture how these parents are feeling and what their options are. Below I share the comments from two wealthy mothers, with National Merit finalists, who successfully targeted schools that would provide their sons with institutional merit scholarships.
Mom from Del Mar, CA:
We see this again and again in our community. Truly spectacular teens, like this mother’s daughter, apply to 10-15 name-brand schools, get into 3-5 and don’t get a nickel in aid. Sadly the fix is very simple: Apply to a different set of schools.
Both of our sons were accepted to every school they applied to and only our current high school senior had one school offer nothing: Kenyon College, which had a record year for applicants.
Every other school offered from $10,500 to $44,000 per year in merit scholarships. In fact, that really high, outlier number came from Denison University (part of Colleges that Change Lives), which gives 20 National Merit Finalists that sum every year. If only this mom had considered having her daughter apply there! If he commits there this month, he can save most of his funds for graduate school.
Families must conduct some serious due diligence in the college application and admissions process. The more research done by families before it’s time to submit applications, the better the admissions outcome and financial aid packages should be. A few campus visits and reading college brochures is not enough research. Families need to be tearing apart the Common Data Set info for each college, seeing how their student’s profile matches a college and how likely the college would offer them merit aid, and digging into plenty of other public details online to create a good college search strategy.
My National Merit Finalist kid received annual merit aid offers in the range of $15-22k from at least 12 colleges because we strategized on the best approach to this process. All of them offered her merit aid, not just a couple of them. The merit money really is out there but you have to do some work and purposely seek it out.
She didn’t bother applying to colleges known for giving little to no merit aid. From our research, we knew that as a National Merit Finalist, she could’ve attended Alabama, Arizona State University (Barrett Honors College), University of Oklahoma and a couple other places totally for free or for very minimal cost. Instead, she opted for a private Midwestern liberal arts college 1,000 miles from home where she’s thriving in an incredibly strong program for her major.
As mentioned elsewhere in this lesson, if you won’t qualify for need-based aid and you want your child to obtain a merit scholarship, you will significantly increase your chances if you expand your search beyond the schools at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings.