Merit scholarships open educational pathway to the middle class


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Ella Atsavapranee

With the cost of college tuition rapidly increasing, students and their families often try to find every possible way to save money while paying for college, including applying for financial aid and merit scholarships.

Many public and private institutions have created guaranteed merit scholarships based on a student’s SAT or ACT score and GPA. For these scholarships, students don’t need to submit any application information other than their test scores and grades.

To encourage this trend, more public and private colleges should implement these types of scholarships to aid middle-class students and increase diversity on their campuses.

Guaranteed scholarships offer a significant amount of money for students who meet the test score requirement. For example, out-of-state students applying to the University of Alabama with at least a 3.5 GPA and a 33 to 36 ACT will receive $100,000 over four years. In 2016, the university spent over $100 million in merit aid. As a result, the University of Alabama is now the fastest-growing state flagship because it has attracted an academically stronger freshman class, a 2016 New York Times article reported.

Guaranteed merit scholarships also increase geographic diversity at large public universities by attracting students from all over the country who might not attend the school otherwise. The University of Alabama found that after it used financial aid to recruit students, other students from the same high school applied, even if they weren’t eligible for merit scholarships.

Private admissions counselor Mark Montgomery said to Time Magazine that students also benefit from going to a school where they received a scholarship. These students often get extra attention and support from faculty because they’re generally among the most qualified students on their campuses.

While test scores and grades aren’t a perfect representation of a student’s academic ability, these scholarships create more opportunities for smart students who can’t easily pay for tuition on their own, but may not qualify for significant financial aid.

The value of an affordable college education shouldn’t be overlooked. It allows students to explore their academic interests without the pressure to pay off college debt afterwards. When students can focus on learning and not worry about the rising costs, it makes college a truly enriching experience.