Myths and Facts on Merit Scholarships

by | Dec 25, 2020

There is no topic in the college-going process that has more intricacies than Financial Aid. It is complex, “case by case”, and ever-changing. There are rules that get perfected and tweaked over the years, forms that have their complications, deadlines, deadlines, and deadlines. Over the past 9 years in which I have explained the process of financial aid to parents, I met a few that voiced their conclusion of who can pay for college without a huge debt at the end of the 4 years: the very rich, and the very poor.

We have the costs: many private competitive colleges cost $60,000 or $65,000 annually for undergraduate studies, which for most parents is quite an anxiety-producing figure. In addition, if the child’s dreams take him to graduate school, well, throw in three more years and a few hundred thousand more. Don’t despair, there are good options at State/public schools (see my blog on Honors Programs at Public Universities). However, if the student is set on a highly competitive private school, ivy’s or not, those are the numbers.

And here is where some parents ask me the usual question: Will their child’s outstanding abilities grant him/her a scholarship at an Ivy League college? After all, he/she is a piano virtuoso, a star soccer player, won X prize in fencing, or a gold medal in interscholastic wrestling…

Here is the answer: Ivy League universities usually meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, and therefore only offer need-based aid. If a student demonstrates financial need, for example, that the parents earn a basic salary or are unemployed, the school will cover the tuition. This is how low-income students are able to attend highly competitive private universities.

However, if a family has the means, they are expected to pay tuition, even if the student is a star. This means that highly talented students, musicians, and athletes will not be eligible for any merit scholarships at schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the rule. Some highly-regarded, very-selective private universities that do offer generous merit scholarships for top applicants. These awards recognize those who excel in the classroom, serve as leaders at their school, and contribute to their community. They are awarded to the best candidates in the incoming freshman class, regardless of family income or assets.

Here are five such opportunities.

Carnegie Mellon University

  • Presidential Scholarship
  • # of Annual Awards: 90
  • Full tuition and fees
  • Automatic Consideration
  • Criteria: academic and/or artistic talent

Duke University

  • Robertson Scholars
  • # of Annual Awards: 18
  • Full ride (tuition, fees, room, board) plus a stipend for three summers
  • Separate Scholarship Application required
  • Criteria: young leaders who strive to make transformational contributions to society

Emory University

  • Emory Scholars
  • # of Annual Awards: 25
  • Full ride (tuition, fees, room, board) plus stipends for summer
  • Separate Scholarship Application required. Finalists will participate in an On-Campus Visit
  • Criteria: intellectual curiosity, creative thinking, servant leadership, communication skills, and contribution to community

Rice University

  • Trustee Distinguished Scholarship
  • # of Annual Awards (not disclosed)
  • $24,000 – $26,500 annually
  • Automatic Consideration
  • Criteria: student who distinguish themselves scholastically and personally, even within Rice’s highly competitive group of admitted students

Vanderbilt University

  • Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship Program
  • # of Annual Awards: 150
  • Full tuition plus one summer stipend
  • Separate Scholarship Application required
  • Criteria: academic achievement, intellectual promise, leadership and contribution outside the classroomm

Reach out to us for an overview of college financial aid!

The Weil College Advising Team


Weil College Advising

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!