Best Colleges That Give Merit Aid

While merit aid is a common way for colleges to attract students, it can be difficult for families to understand how it works and where to find the best deals. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the colleges that offer the most generous merit aid packages—and then paired them with our list of schools with the lowest tuition costs.

Best Colleges That Give Merit Aid

1 What You Need to Know About Merit Aid

Merit aid is not a scholarship. It’s money the college offers you because of your academic performance. It’s not required, so you can turn it down if you don’t want to take advantage of it.

Unlike financial aid based on need or athletic ability, merit aid is given solely on academic achievement and does not take into account any other factors such as race, religion or gender. The more competitive schools are more likely to offer merit-based scholarships than less competitive ones because they have fewer applicants applying for admission each year who meet their minimum requirements for admission with test scores and grades alone; they’re looking at ways to help recruit students who make them stand out from other universities that are also high quality institutions but don’t necessarily offer similar programs with smaller budgets like theirs do (especially since tuition rates have been steadily increasing over time).

2 Colleges with the Best Merit Aid

If you’re looking for the best colleges that give merit aid, look no further than the following schools:

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania

Yale University

3 Best Cheap Mid-Atlantic Colleges

The mid-Atlantic region of the United States includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These nine states offer some of the best colleges in America for students looking for a quality education at an affordable price. This list includes some of the best cheap colleges in this section.

  • George Mason University
  • Villanova University
  • Drexel University

For more information about these schools and others that give merit aid to qualified applicants, check out our guide to finding scholarships!

4 Best Cheap Midwest Colleges

  • Illinois: University of Chicago
  • Indiana: Butler University
  • Iowa: University of Iowa
  • Kansas: University of Kansas
  • Michigan: University of Michigan
  • Minnesota: University of Minnesota
  • Missouri: Washington University in St. Louis

5 Best Cheap Northeast Colleges

Here’s a list of the best colleges in the northeast that offer merit aid, low tuition and free room and board. This list includes schools with good academic reputations and those with strong Greek life, athletic programs and student life.

  • Mount Holyoke College – Gives $40,000 to each senior who needs financial support.
  • Swarthmore College – Guarantees need-based grants that cover 100% of demonstrated financial need to students from families with incomes up to $60k or less per year.
  • Colby College – Offers generous merit scholarships ranging between $1,000-$10,000 per year depending on the type of program you choose (new freshman or transfer). Also offers fee waivers for community service activities as well as academic scholarships based on your GPA (3.5+) or SAT score (1400+).

6 Best Cheap South Colleges

For many students, affordability is a major consideration when choosing a college. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable schools across the country—including some in the South. The region has long been known for its low-cost public universities and community colleges and that reputation continues to hold up today. Many Southern schools have lower tuition fees than their Northern counterparts, plus they offer merit aid awards to attract talented students from out-of-state as well as from around their own state borders.

These institutions also tend to have lower student loan default rates than other institutions in their state or region—a good sign that students are able to pay back their debt without difficulty after graduation.

7 Best Cheap West Colleges

If you want to attend a West Coast college that offers merit aid, and you don’t want to go broke in the process, consider these schools:

  • California State University, Fullerton
  • California State University, Long Beach
  • University of California, Davis (UC Davis)
  • University of California, Irvine (UCI)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • University of California San Diego (UCSD)
  • UC Riverside or UC Santa Barbara

8 To find the best value, you need to know what merit aid is and where to find it.

Merit aid is a term that refers to scholarships awarded based on your academic performance rather than financial need. Some school’s athletic departments offer merit-based scholarships, while others are associated with the university’s admissions department.

If you’re looking for the best value in college, it pays to find out which colleges offer merit aid and then apply!


We hope this guide has helped you learn more about merit aid and the best schools that give it. The information here is constantly changing, so keep an eye out for new trends as well as any updates on schools we included in our lists!

(If you’re wondering what merit aid means or want more details on how much money each school gives, check out our glossary.)

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