What is Merit-based Financial Aid?

  • Alma_Matters
  • 17 Nov, 2021

What is Merit-based Financial Aid?

By Alma_Matters

November 16, 2021

In Segment#9 of our Podcast Series “How to Build a Standout College Application”, Ben Stern of IvyAchievement talked about Merit-Based Financial Aid.

Here is what you need to know:

  1. What is Merit-based Financial Aid?
  2. Eligibility Criteria
  3. How to Apply
  4. Information You Need to Provide
  5. Resources


1.What is Merit-based Financial Aid?

There are two main kinds of financial aid: Merit-based which is given on the basis of academic merit, or athletic merit. Then there is what's called Need-based, which is given on the basis of a family's financial need. 

Now, both of these are essentially discounts on the cost of education.


2. Eligibility Criteria 

For a given college, the top applicants are more likely to get scholarship offers, because the college wants those students to enroll. 

  • To assess if you're likely to get offers for merit-based scholarships, compare your academics and test scores to other students in the past. Almost all colleges report the percentiles of their enrolled classes for their SAT and ACT scores. 
  • Students who got Merit-based financial aid are generally the ones who applied with that score. 
  • Students who are applying without Test Scores would be at a disadvantage this year for those Merit-based scholarships. 

Competitive colleges also look at essays, at how much a student will bring to the university, what sort of advantages that students will confer to the university as a student there.


3. How to Apply 

There are different kinds of Merit-based aid - one where the student is automatically considered and the other where a student has to explicitly apply.

One: The Student may be automatically considered on Applying.

  • Some are automatically awarded by a university, when a student applies. The College/University says, what do we think we'll have to offer this applicant? What other kinds of colleges do you think really think this applicant is going to be weighing us against? What do we have to offer this student to make it worth their while to choose us?
  • So, the Penn State University might or Rutgers University might offer $10,000 and so that the cost difference between the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University which is a public university. 
  • Universities, like the Ivy League, Top Public Schools that know that students are likely to choose them over their competitors, don't need to offer merit-based aid. 

Two: There are competitive Merit-based scholarships that one applies for. They do require additional essays, additional transcripts, and recommendations. 

  • The additional information provided will be weighed and then students will be shortlisted and selected for those kinds of merit based scholarships. 
  • These types of schools include University of Southern California, Boston University, Vanderbilt University, University of Wisconsin Madison.
  • The deadlines are earlier than the regular application deadlines to give the schools extra time to consider them and shortlist students. 


4. Information Needed to Apply

In order to Apply for Merit-based Aid, there are three general categories of documents required - There are documents related to 

  • Income,
  • Assets, and 
  • Loans, debt. 

The schools have different application forms. 

  • The application itself can be filled out in an hour or so. 
  • The financial aid office might ask for more information later on. 
  • You can respond to give them more, but it's good to have all the financial documentation prepared up front.

See here for more details on the required documents.


5. Resources 

There isn’t a good central database of scholarships available to international students. Schools typically have a cost of attendance calculator, but that's of limited value to international students. 

IvyAchievement has a free International Financial Guide that is available for free.  You can also sign up for free, to get a more detailed, sortable version of the Guide.

In addition to Segment #9 on Merit-based Financial Aid, here are a couple of our podcasts for your reference:


Here's wishing you all the best as you go through the College Process.

Subscribe or Follow our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters at any of these locations: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, Anchor.

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