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2023 Merit Aid Totals

While many students apply to more colleges in hopes of more admissions offers (see photo*), one fact doesn’t change: highly selective colleges have their pick of top-performing, full-pay students with exceptional extracurricular activities. Most students should not assume that they will get significant merit aid offers from these schools.

However, “full pay” can now mean spending upwards of $85,000 per year at some of these colleges. Several of my families followed the national trend, thinking more strategically:

  • Choosing an Honors College at a public institution

  • Understanding major trumps prestige when a student pursues a high-demand field

  • Opting for the community, connections, and mentorship of a small liberal arts college

  • Choosing large, less expensive public research institutions in general

What is the benefit of these options? Offers of merit aid for students who do not qualify for need-based aid. Three of my students were offered full-tuition rides and others were awarded anywhere from $5,000 to $41,000 per year. Most families who do not qualify for federal and/or institutional aid still prefer to spend less. If the goal is to save money on college, the key is building a smart list of schools that want your student and are willing to be generous.

Merit aid totals for 2023 were $903,000 for freshman year. Assuming that students do well and maintain a GPA that’s usually anywhere from a 3.0 to a 3.5, that totals to $3,612,000 over four years. (The real total is higher: not all students share this information with me.)

*Photo showing where 2023 students were admitted does not include American University and Cornell University. Total students admitted to each college is under-reported by the asterisks.


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