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5 Merit Aid Myths

  • Myth: Merit aid only goes to students with straight A's.

    Truth: Each scholarship has its own requirements. Many emphasize leadership or community and school involvement over grades. There are merit aid scholarships for students based on their interests, their intended majors and even where they grew up. There are usually minimum grade requirements, but students with a 2.0 GPA or higher often qualify.

  • Myth: Merit aid is only offered by private colleges.

    Truth: Merit aid scholarships are awarded by public and private colleges, as well as state governments. Much of the state merit aid is designed to be used at both public and private colleges. So even if a college doesn't offer merit aid scholarships itself, you may still earn merit money from your state.

  • Myth: There is more money in private scholarships.

    Truth: There is more than $11 billion in merit aid scholarships available compared to about $7 billion worth of private scholarships. In fact, the average merit aid award is $5,000 compared to $1,000 to $2,000 for private scholarships. In addition, most private scholarships are one-time payments while many merit aid scholarships are renewable. So a $2,000 merit scholarship awarded each year over the course of your college career would be worth much more than a one-time payment of $3,000 from a private scholarship.

  • Myth: Merit aid scholarships require completing long applications and essays.

    Truth: Most merit aid scholarships require that you apply and be accepted to a college. You may also need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA. And that's usually it. The long essays and independent applications that accompany many private scholarships aren't needed for most merit aid scholarships because a college already has all your info in your application. However, always check with the school's financial aid office to make sure you don't miss any special application requirements or deadlines.

  • Myth: The chances of actually getting a scholarship are slim.

    Truth: One in four students going to college will receive merit aid. On the other hand, some private scholarships are national competitions that put you up against thousands or tens of thousands of students from across the country for one award. Many merit scholarships go to multiple students. Some go to any student that meets minimum requirements. Also, most colleges offer many merit scholarships, from a couple dozen to several hundred individual scholarship programs. In fact, about 25 percent of all full-time undergraduate students receive merit scholarships of some type from their college.

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