If you’re looking for scholarships to pay for college, it’s time to stop playing with duck tape and start looking at colleges. Why? Because students are likely to receive their largest scholarship from the colleges they actually attend. After the federal government, institutions are the largest provider of financial aid to students.
In fact, colleges provide the largest amount of scholarships to individual students. This includes both need-based and merit-based awards. According the National Center for Education Statistics, public doctorate-granting institutions provide an average of $4,500 to 25.3% of students while private schools provide an average of $14,100 to 57.9% of students. That’s more than the $500 from the local Kiwanis club.
Not that $500 isn’t useful when having to buy books for the semester. But when you’re looking at paying $40,000 to $50,000 a year for a private school, you’ll need a lot of $500 scholarships to make a dent in the tuition bill.
Ultimately, colleges use scholarships to convince students to attend their institution. They may decide to award the money in the form of need-based grants to allow more economically disadvantaged students to attend college. Or they may choose to use their resources in the form of merit aid to attract students with specific qualifications to improve their stature and rankings. In either case, this can mean significant scholarships for the right students.
The key is to identify schools where you would be considered the right student. And guess what, it’s not going to be schools in the top of the US News College Rankings. After all, they really don’t have to worry about attracting students, do they?
But there are plenty of quality colleges out there that provide generous institutional aid to good students. And I do mean “good” and not “great.” It doesn’t take straight A’s or perfect test scores to qualify for merit aid. Furthermore, scholarships from colleges are almost always for four years assuming you maintain a minimum GPA.
According to the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), there are 248 schools where 50% or more of freshman receive an average of $15,000 or more in institutional grants. At 178 of these schools, 80% or more of freshman receive an average $15,000 or greater in institutional grants. Of these schools, 170 admit 40% or more of their students and 132 have graduation rates of 49% or better.
I suspect most students could find at least one or two tolerable schools on such a list.
This is isn’t to suggest you ignore private scholarships. If you think you have a pretty good chance of winning, go for it. However, if going to college depends on getting a large scholarship, you’re better off spending your time looking for the right school rather than trying to find the right color combination of duck tape.
Michelle Kretzschmar is the creator of the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet which contains information on over 1,500 colleges that families can use to identify schools best for them. She is also very interested in college graduation rates and has created a 50-50 list of colleges that accept at least 50% of their applicants and have at least a 50% graduation rate. She will be offering an online class on “How to Get the Best Deal on a College Education” this January. Michelle received her Bachelor’s Degree in Plan II and History and Masters in Public Affairs from the University of Texas at Austin with research focusing on high school dropouts.