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Uncovering Merit Scholarships

February 1st, 2016

With college and boarding school tuitions spiraling skyward, many families are concerned about how they’ll bear the cost. Certainly a need-based financial aid package that brings billed costs within reach is a great relief when it arrives.

But where does this leave families without demonstrated financial need, yet also without sufficient assets to pay their children’s college costs in full and still maintain life as they know it (not to mention retirement as they’d like to expect it)? Help exists for many of these families, too, in the form of merit scholarships that can range from very small amounts ($500-100) to full tuition or, in certain cases, full billed costs. (Note that these are not the same as National Merit scholarships, a competition triggered by very strong PSAT results.)

Quite a few college scholarship search engines exist, and two of our favorites are:

– Cappex,, and

– Fastweb,

Students build profiles on these sites, and the search engines suggest potential matches. A word of caution: many students feel overwhelmed by the process of gathering more information about the scholarships to determine if they’re true matches. Sifting through the information returned is an instance where parents eager for a role to play in the college search can help out.

Top students applying primarily to colleges offering only need-based financial aid, not merit scholarships, may find some interesting opportunities among potential scholarship search engine matches, including prestigious awards such as the Coca-Cola Scholarships.

However, for most students, scholarship search sites won’t yield as much as a carefully targeted college list will. In fact, identifying college matches where you’ll be a star in the applicant pool may be the best means of achieving merit scholarship funding. Why? Colleges discount tuition for students who will improve or add something to their institution, offering academic merit awards or scholarships for leadership or other talents.

Boarding schools have followed suit. Many now offer merit scholarships, intending to recruit strong students and help families who might otherwise feel that the cost of boarding school is beyond their reach. maintains a list of boarding schools offering merit awards:

If merit scholarships are crucial, look carefully at opportunities offered by schools or colleges you consider a match. Pay attention to whether an additional application is required to be considered for merit funding. And open your mind to options we consider “green light,” highly likely for admission, for the greatest opportunities. It can be difficult to readjust one’s sights, no question. But for some families, this is the most viable path to the tuition relief sought. Happily, the right school or college match can come in many forms.

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