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Merit-Based Financial Aid Explained


I recently visited Dickinson College, a selective liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  The campus is beautiful, and I enjoyed my visit.  While I was there, I took a few moments to explain how merit-based financial aid works.

If’ you’re interested, I also explained need-based financial aid in this post.
If you’d prefer to read my comments, you’ll find them below.
I’m here right now on the campus of Dickinson College, which is in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and I want to talk a little bit about financial aid, but I want to set the stage by saying Dickinson College is just a gorgeous place.  I’m here just kind of outside the library in a little courtyard, the azaleas are in bloom, students are packed in the library right now studying for finals.  Architecturally speaking, this campus is one of those harmonious campuses, all in gray brick.  It’s just absolutely stunning.  The landscaping is beautiful.  Every facility I’ve gone into so far has been stupendous, superb.
But let’s talk about financial aid.  And we’ll talk about merit aid because merit aid is the money you get because you’re a good student.  And, at Dickinson, in order to get merit aid you need to be a very good student.  Dickinson reserves only a very small portion of its financial aid budget for merit and awarded at the very top.
So, to give you some examples, I picked up this fact sheet outside the admissions office.  I’m here on a Saturday; it’s not the best day to come, but it’s what I could do.  So, I picked up this fact sheet and for financial aid, first of all, the tuition for 2010/11 is just over $41,000, just for the tuition alone.  Fifty-seven percent of students receive some form of financial aid – 57%.  So, that means that 43% are paying $41,000, okay?  So, just so you put that in perspective.  It also says that they do offer academic scholarships to 13% of the student body.  Okay, so, 43% are paying full price and 13% are getting some sort of academic scholarship for their high school labors.
The other thing is that the middle 50% of scores – let’s just take the ACT score because it’s a little easier, sometimes, to remember.  Out of 36, the mid 50% is between a 28 and a 31 in terms of their admitted students.  So, 25% of students who are admitted have a 32 or above.  So, 25% have a 32 or above.  Now remember, I said 13% of students actually get merit-based financial aid.  So, in other words – and this is rough numbers – in order to get a merit-based scholarship at Dickinson, you need to be at the top 13% of the admitted class or of the applicant pool, it does still say applicant pool as between a 27 and 31.  So again, the applicant pool means that it’s not just a 32 ACT in order to get merit-based financial aid.  You need to have quite a bit more than that.  You need to have to be in the top 15 or 13% of its applicant pool in order to get merit-based financial aid.  So, that’s not need-based.  I mean, that’s not based on your ability to pay, but if you are trying to reduce the price of college by maximizing other people’s money – and in this case, the college’s money – to get scholarships from the college, you need to be in the top 13%.
Now, several of the other liberal arts colleges that I’ve been visiting on this tour, if you’re in the top 50%, you’re likely to get some sort of merit-based financial aid, but not at Dickinson.  You need to be at the tippy, tippy top of the applicant pool to pull down merit-based aid.
So, it really helps to know who’s getting the money and to do the research and to look at the numbers as you apply because if you’re one of those students who the family believes and wants some sort of merit-based aid in order to pay for college, reduce the price, you’re not going to get it at Dickinson unless you are at the very top of their applicant pool – the top 10%, let’s say – 13 is the specific number here – but you need to aim for the top of their applicant pool.  Again, other colleges that’s not the case.  The top 50% of the pool receives some sort of merit-based discount, but Dickinson, well, there’s a reason why there are such wonderful facilities here.  Forty-three percent of the students are paying full price to go here.  So, it’s a great school, it’s beautiful.  I would recommend it.  I think academically, it’s quite good, but if you’re looking for a bargain, it’s only going to be a bargain if you’re in the top 13%.
Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant


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