Berry College
Lauren Neumann—Berry College
By Kim Clark
August 16, 2017

The odds of winning a college scholarship are probably better than you think.

In part because of a decline in the number of 18-year-olds, scores of private colleges are now worried about filling their seats — and in response are awarding merit scholarships to an increasing number of students.

Of course, not all of these new scholarships are large. Research shows that even comparatively small grants of a few thousand dollars or so — especially if presented with a fancy name like “Presidential Scholarship” — often flatter students into enrolling. Indeed, this type of aid is often derided as“vanity” or “cocktail” aid.

“It makes parents feel good to go to cocktail parties and talk about the scholarship their son or daughter got,” says Donald Hossler, who formerly oversaw admissions and financial aid at Indiana University and is now a senior scholar at the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice. (Here’s a list of 91 colleges where every student gets a scholarship.)

Even so, small scholarships can add up. College advisors and aid experts urge students to consider a school’s total aid package — both the so-called “merit” grants and “need-based” aid — against the list price to find the most affordable schools.

Indeed, tuition has gotten so expensive that middle- and even upper middle- class families can now qualify for grants based on the family’s financial need, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Cappex.com. Students from families earning north of $200,000 often qualify for “need-based” grants at Ivy League and other generous private colleges, for instance.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution, offers one caution when assessing a school’s scholarship aid. Beyond need-based grants, she says, the largest merit scholarships typically go to students with grades and test scores far above a school’s average. That means students should remember to check the quality of a school that offers a large scholarship.

To help you, MONEY dug into its Best Colleges database to find 46 high-value schools where you’ll have good chances of landing significant scholarship aid. All of the following colleges:

  • Have good graduation rates (i.e. that have graduation rates that are at least the median for their type or are unusually high for the student body they serve).
  • Give “merit” scholarships to at least 25% of their undergraduates.
  • Give scholarships that, on average, cover at least 25% of the cost of attendance and are large enough to bring the total net cost of attendance for recipients below $40,000 a year.

The schools listed below are ranked by a combination of the percentage of students who receive aid, the size of the average grant, and the affordability of the college for those who receive the grants. Where two or more schools share a rank, there was a tie. We also included average earnings of those who graduated within the last five years, as reported to PayScale.


1. Tennessee Technological University

Tennessee Technological University
courtesy of Tennessee Technological University

Cookeville, TN
MONEY 2017 rank: 296
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $13,576
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $25,900
Average early career earnings: $53,300


2. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Mario Morgodo—Cooper Union

New York, NY
MONEY 2017 rank: 124
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 57%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $34,500
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $66,200
Average early career earnings: $66,600


3. Truman State University

Truman State University
courtesy of Truman State University

Kirksville, MO
MONEY 2017 rank: 124
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 35%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $5,500
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $21,900
Average early career earnings: $40,500


4. John Brown University

John Brown University
courtesy of John Brown Universit—Photo © Matt Snyder

Siloam Springs, AR
MONEY 2017 rank: 462
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 29%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,700
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $38,800
Average early career earnings: $40,800


4. Mount Vernon Nazarene University

Mount Vernon Nazarene University
courtesy of Mount Vernon Nazarene

Mount Vernon, OH
MONEY 2017 rank: 438
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 29%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,500
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $39,800
Average early career earnings: $37,900


6. The College of Idaho

The College of Idaho
courtesy of The College of Idaho

Caldwell, ID
MONEY 2017 rank: 442
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 29%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $15,600
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $40,800
Average early career earnings: $35,000


7. Augustana University

Augustana University
courtesy of Augustana University

Sioux Falls, SD
MONEY 2017 rank: 168
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 39%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,400
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $43,000
Average early career earnings: $41,900


7. Loras College

Loras College
Elite Images—Elite Images

Dubuque, IA
MONEY 2017 rank: 365
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $16,600
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $43,800
Average early career earnings: $41,200


9. Cedarville University

Cedarville University
Scott Huck—Scott Huck Photography

Cedarville, OH
MONEY 2017 rank: 362
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $16,300
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $39,500
Average early career earnings: $46,400


9. Westminster College

Westminster College
courtesy of Westminster College—John McKeith 207.749.4715

Fulton, MO
MONEY 2017 rank: 675
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 34%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $12,600
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $39,400
Average early career earnings: $36,400


11. Ouachita Baptist University

Ouachita Baptist University
courtesy of Ouachita Baptist University

Arkadelphia, AR
MONEY 2017 rank: 611
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 35%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $10,400
Average. sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $36,800
Average arly career earnings: $34,800


12. University of Mississippi

Nathan Latil—Ole Miss Communications

University, MS
MONEY 2017 rank: 507
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 27%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $7,800
Average sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $24,700
Average early career earnings: $42,400


13. Hendrix College

Peter Howard—Peter Howard Photographer, Inc.

Conway, AR
MONEY 2017 rank: 675
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 35%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $25,700
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $59,300
Average early career earnings: $36,800


14. Millsaps College

Millsaps College
courtesy of Millsaps College

Jackson, MS
MONEY 2017 rank: 571
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 38%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $20,400
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $54,900
Average early career earnings: $39,600


14. Randolph College

Randolph College
courtesy of Randolph College

Lynchburg, VA
MONEY 2017 rank: 641
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $20,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $54,200
Average early career earnings: $41,000


16. Centre College

Students work in class drawing live models during Professor Sheldon Tapleyís painting and drawing course in the Jones Visual Arts Center at Centre College on January 26, 2015.
Robert Boag—Centre College

Danville, KY
MONEY 2017 rank: 307
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 40%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $19,700
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $54,100
Average early career earnings: $41,300


16. University of Vermont

University of Vermont
Sally McCay—©2009UVM Photo Sally McCay

Burlington, VT
MONEY 2017 rank: 115
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 28%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $9,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $33,200
Average early career earnings: $45,300


18. Transylvania University

Transylvania University
courtesy of Transylvania University

Lexington, KY
MONEY 2017 rank: 545
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 31%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $16,400
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $50,200
Average early career earnings: $40,300


18. Wartburg College

Wartburg College
courtesy of Wartburg College

Waverly, IA
MONEY 2017 rank: 450
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $52,600
Average early career earnings: $39,800


20. William Jewell College

William Jewell College
Kyle Rivas—Copyright: Kyle Rivas/Rivas Media Photography

Liberty, MO
MONEY 2017 rank: 569
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $15,800
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $48,200
Average early career earnings: $45,000


21. Messiah College

Messiah College
Matthew Tennison—Matthew Tennison

Mechanicsburg, PA
MONEY 2017 rank: 296
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 27%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,100
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $47,900
Average early career earnings: $46,000


22. University of Dallas

University of Dallas
courtesy of the University of Da

Irving, TX
MONEY 2017 rank: 361
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 36%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,400
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $54,600
Average early career earnings: $45,700


23. University of Evansville

University of Evansville
courtesy of the University of Ev

Evansville, IN
MONEY 2017 rank: 198
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $17,600
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $50,400
Average early career earnings: $46,600


23. Northwestern College

Northwestern College
courtesy of Northwestern College

Orange City, IA
MONEY 2017 rank: 402
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $10,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $44,400
Average early career earnings: $42,000


25. Southwestern University

Southwestern University
courtesy of Southwestern University

Georgetown, TX
MONEY 2017 rank: 372
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 35%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,700
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $56,200
Average early career earnings: $50,800


26. University of Detroit Mercy

University of Detroit Mercy
courtesy of University of Detroit Mercy

Detroit, MI
Merit aid rank: 26
MONEY 2017 rank: 384
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $19,200
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $55,000
Average early career earnings: $51,400


26. Carroll College

Carroll College
courtesy of Carroll College

Helena, MT
MONEY 2017 rank: 495
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 31%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $12,500
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $47,400
Average early career earnings: $40,800


28. Ohio Wesleyan University

Ohio Wesleyan University
courtesy of Ohio Wesleyan University

Delaware, OH
MONEY 2017 rank: 488
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 30%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $22,300
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $61,500
Average early career earnings: $44,300


28. Miami University-Oxford

Scott Kissell—Miami University in Ohio

Oxford, OH
MONEY 2017 rank: 243
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 30%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $8,000
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $31,100
Average early career earnings: $50,700


28. Berry College

Berry College
Lauren Neumann—Berry College

Mount Berry, GA
MONEY 2017 rank: 622
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 29%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $12,700
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $50,000
Average early career earnings: $37,900


31. Trinity University

Trinity University
courtesy of Trinity University

San Antonio, TX
MONEY 2017 rank: 108
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 51%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,000
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $57,200
Average early career earnings: $44,400


31. Lawrence University

Lawrence University
courtesy of Lawrence University

Appleton, WI
MONEY 2017 rank: 320
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 36%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $20,000
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $59,400
Average early career earnings: $44,000


31. Albion College

Albion College
courtesy of Albion College

Albion, MI
MONEY 2017 rank: 320
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $19,500
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $57,600
Average early career earnings: $44,800


31. Gordon College

Gordon College
courtesy of Gordon College

Wenham, MA
MONEY 2017 rank: 569
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 31%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,300
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $51,200
Average early career earnings: $40,100


35. Xavier University

Xavier University
courtesy of Xavier University

Cincinnati, OH
MONEY 2017 rank: 438
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 37%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $52,700
Average early career earnings: $46,600


35. Concordia College at Moorhead

Concordia College
Chris Shinn—Concordia College

Moorhead, MN
MONEY 2017 rank: 320
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $13,700
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $49,400
Average early career earnings: $40,600


35. Benedictine College

Benedictine College
courtesy of Benedictine College

Atchison, KS
MONEY 2017 rank: 560
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 25%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $11,500
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $43,200
Average early career earnings: $41,800


38. Westminster College

Westminster College
courtesy of Westminster College—John McKeith 207.749.4715

Salt Lake City, UT
MONEY 2017 rank: 500
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 31%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $13,800
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $47,400
Average early career earnings: $44,900


38. Gustavus Adolphus College

Gustavus Adolphus College
courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus College

Saint Peter, MN
MONEY 2017 rank: 94
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 27%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,400
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $56,800
Average early career earnings: $46,000


40. Juniata College

Groups of Juniata College students study in Dale Hall with books and computers
JonesFoto—Juniata College

Huntingdon, PA
MONEY 2017 rank: 336
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 27%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $19,100
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $58,700
Average early career earnings: $43,300


40. Covenant College

Covenant College
courtesy of Covenant College

Lookout Mountain, GA
MONEY 2017 rank: 446
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 29%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $11,900
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $46,500
Average early career earnings: $40,300


42. Drake University

Drake University
Jonathan Chapman Photograp—Drake University

Des Moines, IA
MONEY 2017 rank: 341
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 34%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $13,500
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $50,800
Average early career earnings: $44,900


42. University of Colorado Boulder

University of Colorado–Boulder
Patrick Campbell—University of Colorado–Boulder

Boulder, CO
MONEY 2017 rank: 348
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 26%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $8,800
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $33,100
Average early career earnings: $51,300


44. Whitworth University

Whitworth University
courtesy of Whitworth University

Spokane, WA
MONEY 2017 rank: 520
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 28%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $18,000
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $56,600
Average early career earnings: $44,900


45. Creighton University

Creighton University
courtesy of Creighton University

Omaha, NE
MONEY 2017 rank: 442
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 37%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $14,300
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $53,500
Average early career earnings: $46,400


46. Clark University

Clark University
Tammy Woodard—Clark University

Worcester, MA
MONEY 2017 rank: 219
% of undergraduates who get “merit” grants: 31%
Typical size of “merit” grant: $17,500
Estimated sticker price for 2017-18 (in-state if public): $56,500
Average early career earnings: $39,000

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