The Washington Post

Admission dean pulls back curtain on merit aid

Colleges are generally reluctant to tell applicants how much financial aid to expect, particularly at institutions that dispense grant funds according to academic merit.

“Need-based” aid is fairly easy to predict; many colleges spell out their formulas so plainly that a student can calculate a likely aid award based on her or his household income. “Merit” aid is comparatively opaque, meted out in rough proportion to the applicant’s academic credentials.

So, I was surprised to see the admission dean at University of Rochester pen an unusually candid list of 12 “steps that mattered” in merit awards at his school this year, and the approximate dollar value of each factor in shaping the merit award.

Jonathan Burdick, dean of admission and financial aid at Rochester, analyzed merit award data at his school to discern “some rules of thumb about how the mythical ‘average’ student succeeded in earning a scholarship this year,” he writes in the June 11 post, titled “What kind of scholarship can I get?”

Here are some of the dozen variables:

1. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. Burdick found that merit awards increased by $400, on average, per AP or IB course taken by an applicant.

2. Grades. Every A grade translated to $62 in merit aid. Lower grades chipped away at the award.

3. Test scores. An upward variance of 10 points on the SAT was worth $115 in merit aid, and each additional point on the ACT was worth $425. In other words, “a student with three 750s on the SAT on average received $1,725 more in scholarship than a student with three 700s.”

4. Earnings. Merit awards increased by one cent for every four dollars less in family income.

5. Personal appeals. Students who had “serious conversations” with admissions and aid counselors earned $3,000 more in merit aid than those who did not.

6. Timeliness. Students who completed their application on time reaped $400 more in merit aid than those who did not.

7. Recommendations. Applicants with very strong letters of recommendation earned $1,800 more in merit aid than other students.

8. Age. Older students received more merit aid than younger students, at a rate of 82 cents per day.


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