Paying For College For Dummies
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Your kids should strive to do their best in school. Their grades do matter. Now, that’s not to say they should stay up past midnight, hole up in their rooms, and toil away to get every point possible on that next test or try to write the perfect paper.

Perfection isn’t possible, and kids (and adults) can make themselves miserable trying to attain the impossible. Balance matters, and there’s more to life than high grades, making more money, and so on.

While an imperfect measure, grades and test scores indicate mastery and achievement. Unless a student is taking easy courses or is a naturally gifted whiz at something, getting better grades and higher test scores usually takes more effort and work.

Want your kids to get more out of their pre-college education and improve their chances of getting into a desired college and other post–high school options? Here’s what they can do leading up to and during high school:

  • Strive for better grades. All other things being equal, colleges are going to admit students with better grades (higher GPAs) and also give more merit scholarship money to students with better grades. This doesn’t mean that your kids should take easier courses that enable them to get higher grades. High schools today use a weighted GPA, which gives a higher point value to grades earned in harder courses. And, more selective colleges also expect students to challenge themselves with higher level courses.
  • Take advanced placement (AP) courses. Not only do AP courses demonstrate that your children are taking challenging courses, but some colleges also offer credits to students who earn a good score (typically four or five on a scale of five) on AP tests, which are typically administered in May. These credits may allow your child to accelerate his college experience by a semester or even a full year, saving you some serious money. Some colleges simply use mastery of AP subjects to place a student out of a comparable introductory course in that area.
  • Prepare for taking the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or ACT (American College Testing). The first step for students in preparing is for them to study and do their best throughout middle school and high school. Many high schools administer a practice test in 10th or 11th grade. On their website, the College Board offers ten free practice SAT tests for students to download. Once completed, the test is scored through your phone by simply taking a picture of your answer sheet. Or through the same link on that College Board webpage, you can take entire SAT practice tests through Khan Academy. The ACT folks charge $39.95 for their six-month online prep course with practice tests.
Some colleges offer a lower price (through grants and scholarships) referred to as “preferential packaging.” This simply means that the college or university can choose to offer a better mix of aid (pricing) to academically stronger candidates they are trying to attract to their school. A bonus for those students who worked hard in school!

The table shows a list compiled by U.S. News & World Report of the colleges that offer merit scholarships to the greatest percentage of their students. (Note: This list excludes athletic awards.) The list includes a real mix of schools in terms of quality. The colleges that are consistently ranked as the top colleges are absent from this list for good reason — they don’t have any trouble attracting plenty of qualified applicants.

To help your kids’ chances of getting merit money offers from colleges, in addition to being sure to apply to numerous colleges that make such offers, they should also apply to schools that are likely to accept (and therefore want) them. To really maximize their chances of getting merit money, your child should apply not just to colleges that are likely to accept them, but to schools for which they are somewhat overqualified and where they’ll stand out from the crowd of applicants. (Of course, you don’t want to take this to an extreme and have your offspring be the absolute biggest fish in a little pond and not have peers who are like them.)

Merit Scholarship Percentages by School
School Location Percent of Students Receiving Merit-Based Aid
Hellenic College Brookline, MA 100%
Fort Valley State University Fort Valley, GA 94%
Oklahoma Baptist University Shawnee, OK 94%
Vanguard University of Southern California Costa Mesa, CA 94%
Webb Institute Glen Cove, NY 81%
Keiser University Ft. Lauderdale, FL 73%
Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN 60%
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering Needham, MA 56%
New England Conservatory of Music Boston, MA 53%
Fairfield University Fairfield, CT 52%
Trinity University San Antonio, TX 50%
Oberlin College Oberlin, OH 49%
Samford University Birmingham, AL 49%
Denison University Granville, OH 48%
The New School New York, NY 47%
Cooper Union New York, NY 46%
Furman University Greenville, SC 46%
Hillsdale College Hillsdale, MI 46%
Gonzaga University Spokane, WA 45%
San Francisco Art Institute San Francisco, CA 45%
University of Puget Sound Tacoma, WA 45%
Rhodes College Memphis, TN 44%
The University of the South Sewanee, TN 44%
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute, IN 43%
Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, GA 43%
University of Dayton Dayton, OH 42%
University of Denver Denver, CO 42%
Alcorn State University Lorman, MS 41%
Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI 41%
Creighton University Omaha, NE 41%
Golden Gate University San Francisco, CA 41%
Centre College Danville, KY 40%
Eckerd College St. Petersburg, FL 40%
Southern Methodist University Dallas, TX 40%
Tulane University New Orleans, LA 40%
Augustana University Sioux Falls, SD 39%
DePauw University Greencastle, IN 39%
Truman State University Kirksville, MO 39%
Beloit College Beloit, WI 38%
Birmingham-Southern College Birmingham, AL 38%
Calvin University Grand Rapids, MI 38%
Marquette University Milwaukee, WI 38%
University of Portland Portland, OR 38%
Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester, MA 38%
Baylor University Waco, TX 37%
Butler University Indianapolis, IN 37%
Landmark College Putney, VT 37%
New College of Florida Sarasota, FL 37%
Ave Maria University Ave Maria, FL 36%
College of Idaho Caldwell, ID 36%
Lawrence University Appleton, WI 36%
University of Findlay Findlay, OH 36%
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 35%
Guilford College Greensboro, NC 35%
Holy Cross College Notre Dame, IN 35%
Mississippi College Clinton, MS 35%
Pratt Institute Brooklyn, NY 35%
Southwestern University Georgetown, TX 35%
University of Texas of the Permian Basin Odessa, TX 35%
Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX 34%
Benedictine College Atchison, KS 34%
The Catholic University of America Washington, DC 34%
High Point University High Point, NC 34%
Whitman College Walla Walla, WA 34%
Willamette University Salem, OR 34%
College of Wooster Wooster, OH 33%
Colorado School of Mines Golden, CO 33%
Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL 33%
Iowa State University Ames, IA 33%
Lewis & Clark College Portland, OR 33%
Saint Louis University St. Louis, MO 33%
St. Lawrence University Canton, NY 33%
St. Michael’s College Colchester, VT 33%
Stonehill College Easton, MA 33%
University of South Carolina Columbia, SC 33%
Carroll College Helena, MT 32%
Drake University Des Moines, IA 32%
Florida Polytechnic University Lakeland, FL 32%
Florida Southern College Lakeland, FL 32%
Gordon College Wenham, MA 32%
Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva, NY 32%
John Brown University Siloam Springs, AR 32%
Miami University—Oxford Oxford, OH 32%
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Socorro, NM 32%
Sacred Heart University Fairfield, CT 32%
Suffolk University Boston, MA 32%
Biola University La Mirada, CA 31%
California College of the Arts San Francisco, CA 31%
Covenant College Lookout Mountain, GA 31%
Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 31%
Drury University Springfield, MO 31%
Harding University Searcy, AR 31%
Loyola University Chicago Chicago, IL 31%
Marist College Poughkeepsie, NY 31%
Pepperdine University Malibu, CA 31%
Ringling College of Art and Design Sarasota, FL 31%
Rollins College Winter Park, FL 31%
Union College Schenectady, NY 31%
University of North Alabama Florence, AL 31%
University of Tampa Tampa, FL 31%
Source: U.S. News & World Report

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Eric Tyson is a veteran Dummies author of numerous bestselling books in the investing and personal finance space.

Paul Mladjenovic is a Certified Financial Planner and the bestselling author of Stock Investing For Dummies.

Kiana Danial is an investment consultant and trainer and the author of Cryptocurrency Investing For Dummies.

Russell Wild is the author or coauthor of nearly two dozen books, including ETFs For Dummies.

Matt Krantz is a nationally known financial journalist and the author of Online Investing For Dummies.

Robert Griswold is a successful real estate investor and property manager and the co-author of Real Estate Investing For Dummies.

Steven Gormley is a celebrated expert in the legal marijuana sector and author of Investing in Cannabis For Dummies.

Brendan Bradley is a financial market professional and the author of ESG Investing For Dummies.

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