As students complete their applications, it is important to understand the different types of aid they can receive. All students will fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see how much money they may qualify for from the United States Federal government. While students do have to report their parent(s)’ or guardians(s)’ income, income is not necessarily a determinant of receiving federal aid. Most often, however, federal aid will not cover the entire cost of schooling, so students turn to merit aid to also offset the cost. So, what is merit aid?
Where financial aid is based on a student’s financial need (or is need-based), merit aid is based on the academic or extracurricular achievements of the student. This is important because all applying students could be considered regardless of their financial need. Academic achievements are recognized by earning consistently good grades that manifest into a good grade point average. Merit aid also recognizes extracurricular achievements, which include athletic, artistic or special interest achievements. Scholarships are the most common type of merit aid, and they can come from a variety of sources. Colleges or universities may offer merit aid if you have a certain GPA; private organizations may provide merit aid for students if they are pursuing a particular major. There are a number of reasons why someone may apply and/or be a recipient of merit aid.
So, if you are a high-achieving student, or if you have a special talent that can be recognized by others, you may qualify for merit aid. The key is to do the research; you never know the extent of the merit aid out there. It is a great way to reduce the cost of higher learning.