Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Need Based Schools vs. Merit Based Schools

The above picture illustrates the sharp bifurcation in the college admission landscape between schools that provide need-based aid and schools that provide merit-based aid.

Need aid is provided for students who can't afford to pay the price tag.

Merit aid is rewarded to students to help cover the bill.

The former is based on the governing principle that the fewer 0's you have on your W'2, the more 0's the college will tack on to the end of your financial aid package.

The latter is based on the governing principle that the higher the GPA, the higher the test score, the more prolific the involvement, and the more prodigious the leadership, the more 0's taken off the final bill.

Currently there are 74 colleges/universities that offer "no loan" packages.  To see a list of the schools and the qualifications for the "no loan" packages click here.

If you (student) don't qualify for need based on W'2's, you will then have to cover the bill either by paying out of pocket ("EFC" = Expected Family Contribution), paying through a self-help program like work-study, and paying the rest off through the other major self-help program via loans.  Hopefully you will get what you pay for in terms of the school's prestige and the "market value" of a diploma from a "name brand" school.

Some times, for example, our students are shocked when they discover that while OU offers an in-state national merit finalist almost $75,000 in scholarships over 4-years, a school like Northwestern will only give around $12,000, and a school like Georgetown will give $0.

The majority of the 3,000 colleges/universities, however, will reward merit in some way.  Many schools have scholarship tiers.  Denison University, for example, has scholarships ranging from $40,000 a year to $10,000 (click here to see an example of scholarship tiers).

For many of our seniors this year, price tag trumped prestige.  Students and families, in other words, placed a premium in their hierarchy of values based on affordability.  This really isn't "counter cultural".  In fact, more and more studies/articles are showing that students/families are making fiscally conservative decisions on their college choice.  Check out this New York Times article, for example, to see the growing trend.

In the end, we encourage our students to determine with their families what makes the most sense for them.  If best college fit means paying less, then that is the best college fit for that student.   If best college fit means paying more, then that is the best college fit for that student.  One is not "better" than the other.  Best college fit, then, is elastic and flexible enough to include both, as opposed to excluding or elevating one to the other.