Merit Scholarships: 9 Ways to Win a College Scholarship

Traditionally college and universities reserved their academic scholarships for a handful of their brightest applicants. But today, schools are handing out merit awards to far more students. At plenty of schools, even teenagers with “B” averages can cash in on this scholarship bonanza.

These academic prizes are definitely worth pursuing. The average private school, for instance, is awarding academic scholarships that slash tuition by 33.5%. Public universities, with their lower price tags, are cutting their tuition tab by nearly 15% for smart students. Find out how to grab one of these scholarships.

Here’s How:

1. Look for academic matches.

Schools are more likely to award you an academic scholarship if you place among the top 25% to 30% of the students applying to a particular institution. Some schools, however, will award you merit aid even if you don’t make that cut. You can compare your SAT scores and grade point average by looking at individual school profiles through the College Board’s College QuickFinder.

2. Don’t worry about the SAT.

If you SAT is mediocre, you can still be in the running for merit award. More than 750 colleges and universities are no longer requiring the SAT. Lots of these schools will consider you for aid without the scores.

3. Apply to the competition.

Some schools will be more generous if they know that a good student is also looking at their academic rivals. Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, for instance, could be more interested in a smart teenager if it learns that he’s also applying to other high caliber math/science schools such as Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, the University of Pittsburgh and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

4. Skip reach schools.

If you barely qualify for a selective college don’t expect it to lavish you with cash. You might be thrilled to win an acceptance from a reach school, but chances are high that this is all you’ll get. Be prepared to pay the full tab.

5. Try other time zones.

Schools love great candidates who live in different regions of the country. A Midwestern school, for instance, would eagerly welcome a promising teenager from the Deep South or a surfer from Southern California. If an East Coast school is contemplating awarding a scholarship to a student, who lives 50 miles away, or one from New Mexico, who do you think will enjoy a better shot at the cash?

6. Research a school’s strategic plan.

If a school says it’s committed to boosting its engineering program or any of its other academic areas, applicants majoring in those fields could enjoy a competitive advantage. Look on the web site of individual schools to see if they have posted their mission statement and strategic plan, which should reveal their academic priorities.

7. Consult with your high school guidance counselor.

Ask your guidance counselor what colleges and universities have been generous to previous graduates of your high school.

8. Don’t be a stealth candidate.

A growing number of teenagers are applying to schools without ever contacting them through literature requests, college fairs or visits. Colleges suspect that teenagers think they can learn everything they need through the Internet. A recent survey, however, suggested that 53% of college admission officers use a student’s “demonstrated interest” as a factor in their decisions. So avoid flying under the radar.

9. Don’t be discouraged by the price.

Don’t assume that a school with a high price tag is out of reach. The sticker prices at colleges and universities are meaningless. Winning a merit scholarship will sometimes make an expensive school as affordable as an in-state public university.

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