170815-merit-colleges-by-state-berry-college
Berry College Lauren Neumann—Berry College

The 46 Best Colleges for Getting Big Merit Scholarships

Aug 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.

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-tennessee-technological-university
Tennessee Technological Universitycourtesy of Tennessee Technological University

1. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-new-york-cooper-union-for-the-advancement-of-science-and-art
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtMario Morgodo—Cooper Union

2. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-missouri-truman-state-university
Truman State Universitycourtesy of Truman State University

3. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-arkansas-john-brown-university
John Brown Universitycourtesy of John Brown Universit—Photo © Matt Snyder

4. John Brown University

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-ohio-mount-vernon-nazarene-university
Mount Vernon Nazarene Universitycourtesy of Mount Vernon Nazarene

4. Mount Vernon Nazarene University

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-idaho-the-college-of-idaho
The College of Idahocourtesy of The College of Idaho

6. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-south-dakota-augustana-university
Augustana Universitycourtesy of Augustana University

7. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-iowa-loras-college
Loras CollegeElite Images—Elite Images

7. Loras College

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-ohio-cedarville-university
Cedarville UniversityScott Huck—Scott Huck Photography

9. Cedarville University

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-westminster-college
Westminster Collegecourtesy of Westminster College—John McKeith 207.749.4715

9. Westminster College

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-ouachita-baptist-university
Ouachita Baptist Universitycourtesy of Ouachita Baptist University

11. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-university-of-mississippi
Nathan Latil—Ole Miss Communications

12. University of Mississippi

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-hendrix-college
Peter Howard—Peter Howard Photographer, Inc.

13. Hendrix College

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-millsaps-college
Millsaps Collegecourtesy of Millsaps College

14. 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

Randolph College
Randolph Collegecourtesy of Randolph College

14. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-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

16. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-university-of-vermont
University of VermontSally McCay—©2009UVM Photo Sally McCay

16. University of Vermont

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-transylvania-university
Transylvania Universitycourtesy of Transylvania University

18. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-wartburg-college
Wartburg Collegecourtesy of Wartburg College

18. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-william-jewell-college
William Jewell CollegeKyle Rivas—Copyright: Kyle Rivas/Rivas Media Photography

20. William Jewell College

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-messiah-college
Messiah CollegeMatthew Tennison—Matthew Tennison

21. Messiah College

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-university-of-dallas
University of Dallascourtesy of the University of Da

22. University of Dallas

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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-university-of-evansville
University of Evansvillecourtesy of the University of Ev

23. University of Evansville

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

Northwestern College
Northwestern Collegecourtesy of Northwestern College

23. 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

Southwestern University
Southwestern Universitycourtesy of Southwestern University

25. 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

University of Detroit Mercy
University of Detroit Mercycourtesy of University of Detroit Mercy

26. 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

Carroll College
Carroll Collegecourtesy of Carroll College

26. 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

Ohio Wesleyan University
Ohio Wesleyan Universitycourtesy of Ohio Wesleyan University

28. 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

Miami University in Ohio
Scott Kissell—Miami University in Ohio

28. Miami University-Oxford

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

Berry College
Berry CollegeLauren Neumann—Berry College

28. 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

Trinity University
Trinity Universitycourtesy of Trinity University

31. 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

Lawrence University
Lawrence Universitycourtesy of Lawrence University

31. 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

Albion College
Albion Collegecourtesy of Albion College

31. 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

Gordon College
Gordon Collegecourtesy of Gordon College

31. 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

Xavier University
Xavier Universitycourtesy of Xavier University

35. 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

Concordia College
Concordia CollegeChris Shinn—Concordia College

35. Concordia College at Moorhead

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

Benedictine College
Benedictine Collegecourtesy of Benedictine College

35. 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

170815-merit-colleges-by-state-westminster-college
Westminster Collegecourtesy of Westminster College—John McKeith 207.749.4715

38. Westminster College

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

Gustavus Adolphus College
Gustavus Adolphus Collegecourtesy of Gustavus Adolphus College

38. 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

Dale Hall Study Group
Groups of Juniata College students study in Dale Hall with books and computersJonesFoto—Juniata College

40. 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

Covenant College
Covenant Collegecourtesy of Covenant College

40. 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

Drake University
Drake UniversityJonathan Chapman Photograp—Drake University

42. 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

University of Colorado–Boulder
University of Colorado–BoulderPatrick Campbell—University of Colorado–Boulder

42. 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

Whitworth University
Whitworth Universitycourtesy of Whitworth University

44. 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

Creighton University
Creighton Universitycourtesy of Creighton University

45. 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

Clark University
Clark UniversityTammy Woodard—Clark University

46. 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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