When you venture into the realm of college financial aid, you’ll come across two primary categories – need-based aid and merit aid. But here’s the kicker: there’s often a bit of confusion swirling around, muddying the waters when it comes to distinguishing between these two vital forms of assistance. Often families mistakenly assume that merit aid trumps need-based aid in terms of financial support. However, it’s crucial to realize that this isn’t necessarily the case. The amount of need-based aid hinges on your family’s financial situation, while merit aid is granted based on your academic, athletic, or other accomplishments, regardless of your financial needs. To maximize your eligibility for financial aid, it’s essential to grasp this distinction. Here is a deep dive exploring how each type of aid determines your eligibility.

Need-based aid revolves around a student’s financial need.

To gauge this need, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application gathers information about your family’s income, assets, household size, and the number of college-bound children. The college’s financial aid office then crunches these numbers to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) now called the SAI or Student Aid Index – essentially, the sum your family is expected to chip in towards your college expenses. Students with a lower number are deemed to have greater financial need. Types of need-based aid include federal grants like the Pell Grant, state grants, grants directly from colleges, work-study programs, and federal student loans. The aim here is to bridge the gap between your EFC and the total cost of attending college. To qualify for need-based aid, it all boils down to your family’s financial circumstances. If you are interested in learning more about the new FAFSA, send us a message and we will send you our recent discussion on the topic. [email protected] Watch our video here.

Shifting our focus to merit aid, which hinges on your academic, athletic, artistic, or other achievements, irrespective of your financial situation, it is important to understand the difference. Common forms of merit aid encompass academic scholarships, arts scholarships, athletic scholarships, ROTC scholarships, and more. These awards typically come from the institution itself and can be better understood by researching the merit aid information on each college’s website. Some provide an easy graph that shows the amount of merit aid available (if your student gets in) based on test scores and GPA. Other schools name their merit awards and are more obscure about the real qualifications for those.

Earning merit aid hinges on your skills and accomplishments. Having a strong application and essays is key to this process.

For academic merit aid, criteria may encompass your GPA, class ranking, SAT/ACT scores, challenging coursework, leadership roles, and involvement in extracurricular activities. More competitive colleges tend to offer more generous merit scholarships, designed to entice high-achieving students. Remember that state universities and colleges (public colleges) have a lower COA (cost of attendance) and less money to give out in the form of merit.

In a nutshell, need-based aid steps in to assist those who might otherwise struggle to afford college, while merit aid celebrates and rewards students for their abilities and dedication. Many students are fortunate enough to receive both forms of aid within their financial aid packages. The pivotal first step to accessing need-based financial aid opportunities is completing the FAFSA. Meanwhile, constructing a robust academic and extracurricular profile opens doors to merit aid opportunities. Taking both types into account maximizes a student’s potential to make college an affordable venture.

At Annapolis College Consulting and the Application Blueprint, we help educate our clients on the best way to showcase themselves to colleges. This often starts with a balanced college list and choosing schools where your student may be eligible for aid. Many highly selective schools offer need-based aid but virtually NO MERIT AID. For them, it is supply and demand..and there are plenty of students willing to pay full price, so they do not offer merit aid discounts.