Merit-Based Scholarships vs. Need-Based Scholarships

It may surprise you to learn that, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges have used merit-based scholarships to manipulate their rankings in US News and World Report, and other publications, for at least the past 20 years. How so? Merit aid was used to attract high-caliber students regardless of whether they needed money for college. In effect, merit aid replaced need-based aid to a large degree.

As tuitions began to rise precipitously and fewer and fewer higher income students could afford to go to college without some kind of assistance, colleges were faced with the problem of having to fill their classes and to keep tuitions coming in. Many colleges, therefore, decided to offer a greater number of smaller merit-aid packages to students who could afford to pay at least some tuition. For example, some colleges became more inclined to offer five $5,000 scholarships to wealthy students than one $25,000 scholarship to a truly needy student. What this has done, effectively, has frozen out talented students who do not have the financial wherewithal to afford college without substantial financial assistance.

While merit-based aid is obviously a great concept, rewarding deserving students for their hard work and determined effort, let’s not forget those talented students who also deserve financial assistance not only because they have earned it, but because they truly need it.