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Make sure you research any merit aid application requirements and ask about any ways to increase your award amount.
Scholarships can come from a variety of organizations and businesses, but merit aid scholarships come directly from a college. These sorts of scholarships are offered to students based on their accomplishments in academics, athletics, the arts or other areas where they have excelled.
When applying to colleges, it's important to be informed of your institution's opportunities for merit-based scholarships and make sure you're getting as large an award as possible.
Admissions counselors are a great and often underused resource when it comes to getting answers to questions that may otherwise have you spending hours on a college's website trying to find. And it's not just information that you can get from an admissions counselor. Once you've been accepted and your aid awarded, you can negotiate for more aid if you've gotten a better offer from a comparable or more prestigious school.
Getting the full picture about merit-based opportunities can be crucial to getting you the best possible financial aid and scholarship package. During your application process, here are five questions you need to ask to get the most out of merit-based scholarships offered by a college.
1. Is merit aid automatically awarded? Depending on the college, merit aid can be offered either automatically or, in some cases, schools might require that students fill out an additional application to receive their aid.
2. What kinds of merit aid do you offer? Merit aid isn't just for top of the class academic performances. Students who excel in arts or athletics also can be eligible for aid. If you have an outside interest or do community service, these are even more possibilities for merit-based aid eligibility requirements. Because there are so many options and each school is different, if you aren't sure if you qualify your best bet is to ask.
3. What GPA and standardized test scores do I need to qualify for financial aid, and can I increase my award amount by retaking the ACT or SAT? For academic-based merit aid, usually there will be a qualifying GPA and standardized test score. This is a good place to start to see if you'll qualify for the baseline amount of aid you'll receive due to your academic performance.
If your test scores aren't that great, or if you qualify for aid but potentially want to increase you award, ask the admissions counselor if retaking your standardized tests would increase the scholarship. While retaking the tests may sound unappealing, if a college will offer you more aid for a higher score, you'll thank yourself later for the potentially thousands of dollars you saved.
4. What GPA will I need to maintain to keep my merit-based scholarship and for how many years is it awarded? For almost all financial aid, you'll probably have some other stipulations you'll need to agree to in order to keep the merit-based scholarship. Usually, at the very least, this is a GPA requirement.
Some schools may have pretty high expectations of the students to whom they award their merit aid, and being realistic about what you think you'll be able to accomplish in your first year and subsequent years will help assure you don't lose your scholarship.
It's also important to ask how many years you can renew the merit aid. Usually, schools will allow you to renew for at least four years, but it's a good idea to ask the admissions counselor if that's when the aid expires. Many students end up taking five or more years to graduate, so asking how many years you can renew can prevent any surprises if you end up taking longer than four years.
5. How do I accept my aid? The very last step to getting merit-based scholarships is accepting them. Find out if there is a process to accepting the award and make sure you get the money for college that you've earned.