Paying for College with a Merit Scholarship

Jun 16th, 2011 by Ziva Beck in Paying for College

If you are a parent with a student in junior or senior year of high school, then you are probably thinking about college applications and how to pay for college. I was thinking about it a lot. The goal was to select a college that will provide with the right experience but also hope for a merit scholarship to help with the tuition.

We wanted to know what a well rounded student with extended community service and leadership activities, high 4.3 GPA, a combined SAT of 1330 for Reading and Math and 790 for Writing can expect to get in terms of merit scholarships. Since we didn’t have much information about the different schools we decided to apply to a variety of schools including public schools, private schools, Ivy Leagues, out of state schools, small colleges and large universities. In total, we applied to 10 schools below.

* SAT scores are from 2009 admission data at

After almost a year and half of SAT preparation, college research, college applications preparations and essay writing, finally the results were in and our wait was over.

Based on these results, there were several interesting conclusions.

It looks like there was no need to apply to out of state public schools. Penn State didn’t award any scholarship. University of Delaware was more generous than Rutgers University and awarded a good size scholarship. Still, the $10K scholarship didn’t even cover the extra over $13K out of state tuition charged by the school.

You really need to have very high SAT scores to have a chance to get into an Ivy League school. It was a long shot. I am happy we tried.

The private schools on our list (excluding Ivy Leagues) were Match schools and we didn’t get any merit scholarships. Tuition for these schools ran above $50K per year. We couldn’t find a good reason to choose a private school that will justify the hefty price tag. It didn’t seem like an attractive option.

The decision from Dickinson College was the biggest surprise. Based on their published SAT scores, their decision to “Waitlist” was not clear to me. It only shows that it is always good to apply to more than one school.

Ramapo College offered the highest merit scholarship. You will also notice that my daughter’s combined SAT score of 1330 for Reading and Math was much higher than the 75th percentile score of 1200 for the school. That was the main reason behind the scholarship. It is a good strategy to apply to schools where your SAT scores are higher than the 75th percentile SAT score for the school. The key is to find a school that you like that fits that SAT criteria.

In the end, the choice came down to Rutgers University and Ramapo College. We had to weigh between the resources and the opportunity offered by a large university versus a small college. We attended both schools and spoke to students and faculty. It was a great help in making the final decision.

Ultimately, we have decided that Ramapo College was the best choice. There were many factors that went into this decision. The generous scholarship was an important consideration but not the only one. We loved the small college feel, the beautiful campus and dorms and the personal attention from faculty and staff. It was a winner!

There are different strategies that can help you pay for college. Getting a merit scholarship is one option if you have above average SAT scores. You might also qualify for financial aid, sports scholarships, special circumstances scholarships and other. Choose a strategy that works for your situation and go for it.

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