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What is Merit Aid for College Applicants?

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

With the cost of college again creeping higher, an increasing number of people we speak with ask about merit aid and attempting to factor college costs and the likelihood of receiving merit aid into the college search and selection process.

While higher education has lagged many industries in its use of technology as well as enabling consumers to utilize large industry data sets in their decision process, there is good industry data on costs and merit aid that can be aggregated from the NCES website and individual college CDS information as well as many university websites.

A data series that has been particularly useful for us has been the changes in what qualifies a student for merit aid, the percentage of students receiving merit aid, and the amount of aid the average recipient receives. Pulling these together and looking at multiyear changes in the data at individual colleges can be useful in highlighting unannounced changes in strategy at specific universities that families can benefit from.

While most people do not have the time or patience to create large data sets, it is worth mentioning that they can often pull smaller amounts of merit aid data from sources that are publicly available and start to form their own conclusions about affordability.


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