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As promised, today I am sharing my thoughts on the email that I posted on Monday from a disillusioned mother from Alabama, who is bitter about her brilliant daughter’s admission results.
Both parents, who are physicians, were shocked that their daughter, who is a National Merit Finalist, didn’t receive any merit scholarships from the elite schools where she applied. The only names the mother shared were Duke, University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis.
You can read her reaction in the following post:
I asked visitors to my college blog to weigh in on this mom’s email and I was thrilled to get so many thoughtful and well-informed responses. I got 62 comments, which is the second highest number I’ve ever received on one of my posts.
I’d urge you to spend some time reading the ton of comments that you can find at the bottom of the Angry Mom post!
What some of the parents pointed out is that many elite schools like Ivy League institutions, MIT and Stanford DO NOT give merit scholarships to rich students.
These collegiate alpha dogs boast that they reserve their cash to the families who need financial help, but most of these institutions offer admissions to a low percentage of needy students. The real reason why schools like Harvard and Princeton, don’t award merit scholarships is because they don’t have to. They enjoy the highest U.S. News college rankings which means their brand name will attract all the applicants they need without any carrots.
I wrote a post for my CBS Moneywatch blog three years ago that discusses how some of the nation’s richest universities are actually quite stingy including Washington University, Harvard, Duke, Notre Dame, Boston College and Yale. (Keep in mind that the numbers have no doubt changed some.) Here is my post: The Nation’s 15 Richest and Stingiest Colleges
Parents Who Can Relate
I think the mom’s email struck a chord because lots of parents who visit my blog can relate. Many of my blog visitors have invested a tremendous amount of money and attention on their children and they want the best for them as they head for college. The escalating cost, however, is shocking to them.
If you are too wealthy to qualify for need-based aid and you need merit scholarships to make paying for college doable, you need to be strategic as your child starts searching for colleges. Here are three things to do:
1. Avoid schools that don’t award merit scholarships.
I’ve compiled a list of 23 schools that fit into this category. Please let me know if there are schools that I’ve missed.
- Amherst College (MA)
- Bates College (ME)
- Brown University (RI)
- California Institute of Technology
- Colgate University (NY)
- Columbia University (NY)
- Dartmouth College (NH)
- Georgetown University (DC)
- Hamilton College (NY)
- Harvard University (MA)
- Haverford College (PA)
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Middlebury College (VT)
- Pomona College (CA)
- Princeton University (NJ)
- Reed College (OR)
- Stanford University (CA)
- Swarthmore College (PA)
- Tufts University (MA)
- University of Pennsylvania
- Vassar College (NY)
- Wellesley College (MA)
- Williams College (MA)
- Yale University (CT)
2. Know what scholarships elite schools provide.
Elite schools that aren’t on the above list often provide modest merit scholarships to some high-income students or a small number of large scholarships. Duke University, for example, recently gave 60 merit scholarships in a freshman class of 1,730. Duke’s average merit scholarships are amazingly high at $54,947, but keep in mind that only 3.5% of frosh receive one. University of Chicago and Washington U. are more typical of merit scholarships for schools with high ranks. Their average merit scholarships are in the $10,000 range and are given to 15% and 14% of their student bodies respectively.
Here are just a few other schools where the merit scholarships are going to be underwhelming and hard to get:
- Northwestern University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Northwestern University
- University of Notre Dame
- Boston College
- Wellesley College
- University of Chicago
One of the parents who commented on my previous post (MYOS) seemed surprised that this mother/physician didn’t understand that elite institutions give out few, if any, merit awards. Actually, I believe that the vast majority of parents aren’t aware of this phenomenon.
The Guardian newspaper in London published an article last spring that suggests that children of upper-middle-class families are having to attend public universities because they are too affluent to receive need-based aid and they aren’t getting scholarship from private institutions.
What the reporter, who happens to be the wife of Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, didn’t seem to realize is that outside the East Coast bubble most colleges and universities provide merit scholarships to students who don’t qualify for need-based financial aid.
In fact, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officer, 87% of students (a historic high) attending private colleges and universities don’t pay full price and the average tuition discount is 53%.
3. Don’t Fish in the Same Pond
Susan Lyon, who is friend of mine in San Diego, noted in her response to my last post that her son, who is also a National Merit Finalist, had a dramatically different experience than the Southern teenager, when he applied to schools because he broadened his search. Here is what she said:
We see this again and again in our community. Truly spectacular teens, like this mother’s daughter, apply to 10-15 name-brand schools, get into 3-5 and don’t get a nickel in aid. Sadly the fix is very simple: Apply to a different set of schools.
Both of our sons were accepted to every school they applied to and only our current high school senior had one school offer nothing: Kenyon College, which had a record year for applicants.
Every other school offered from $10,500 to $44,000 per year in merit scholarships. In fact, that really high, outlier number came from Denison University (part of Colleges that Change Lives), which gives 20 National Merit Finalists that sum every year. If only this mom had considered having her daughter apply there! If he commits there this month, he can save most of his funds for graduate school.
Here’s what “K,” another parent of a National Merit Finalist, who also didn’t qualify for need-based aid, had to say in her comment:
Families must conduct some serious due diligence in the college application and admissions process. The more research done by families before it’s time to submit applications, the better the admissions outcome and financial aid packages should be. A few campus visits and reading college brochures is not enough research. Families need to be tearing apart the Common Data Set info for each college, seeing how their student’s profile matches a college and how likely the college would offer them merit aid, and digging into plenty of other public details online to create a good college search strategy.
My National Merit Finalist kid received annual merit aid offers in the range of $15-22k from at least 12 colleges because we strategized on the best approach to this process. All of them offered her merit aid, not just a couple of them. The merit money really is out there but you have to do some work and purposely seek it out.
She didn’t bother applying to colleges known for giving little to no merit aid. From our research, we knew that as a National Merit Finalist, she could’ve attended Alabama, Arizona State University (Barrett Honors College), University of Oklahoma and a couple other places totally for free or for very minimal cost. Instead, she opted for a private Midwestern liberal arts college 1,000 miles from home where she’s thriving in an incredibly strong program for her major.
Smart students with high-income parents enjoy more college options than most families. The vast majority of schools in this country will give these bright students merit aid. But to get the best offers, you have to look beyond the elite institutions.
Does anybody have any further thought on this subject? If so, please comment below.