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College Rankings Can Help Students Pay For College

If you’re trying to figure out how to pay for college, it’s time to make the college ranking madness work for you. While nobody advertises that they’re trying to improve their positions in the US News College Rankings, most colleges are willing to offer money to students who have characteristics that will help improve their rankings. In other words, high test scores, GPAs, and class ranks can qualify you for merit money.

Many schools now have scholarship calculators on their websites to estimate how much you will qualify for just based on your GPA, class rank, and test scores. The University of Dallas estimates a merit scholarship of $14,000 for a 3.5 GPA and 1200 SAT. Southwestern University has a table showing how much you qualify for. A 1200 SAT and 3.5 will get you $11,000.

In general, merit money is found at private colleges. However, there are some state schools that will admit out-of-state students with scholarships or for in-state tuition based on grades and test scores. Furthermore, high test scores can qualify you for honor programs at state universities that can provide you with unique academic opportunities. These will probably not be the public universities with the highest rankings but you should still receive an excellent education.

The key to getting the money is to find the schools where your test scores put you in the top quarter of the freshman class. This means you won’t be applying to the topped ranked schools. They’ve already got the numbers they want, they don’t need to offer any incentives.

But while you may not buy into the rankings, you do still want to ensure a good education. Unfortunately, good is often in the eye of the beholder. However, if you’re willing to do a little research, you can probably find the right school for the right price.

The trick is to narrow down your search.

You already know that you’re going to have to choose schools where your test scores are in the 75%. The next thing to do is to eliminate schools will low graduation rates. After all, graduation is the most basic goal of college. And while a low graduation rate doesn’t automatically mean that the college is doing a poor job of educating their students, it’s certainly a reasonable one for parents footing the bill to consider.

This data is available through the Integrated Post-Secondary Education System (IPEDS) that is used for the College Navigator website.  You can use the Download Custom Data Files option to get a list of colleges to use as your starting point.

If you use the following requirements, you would generate a list of 281 college.

  • 700 or more full-time undergraduates
  • Public or private not-for-profit
  • Offers four-year degrees or higher
  • Has a minimum four-year graduation rate of 35%
  • 75th% SAT CR is 610 or less
  • 75th% SAT Math is 610 or less

It might sound like a lot but it really isn’t when you consider you haven’t made any decisions about size, location, or availability of majors.

Once you narrow the list to schools that meet your minimal requirements, you need to start looking into their financial aid in more detail.

Some of this information is available through IPEDS, including the percent of freshman receiving institutional grants, the average amount of the grants, average net cost after grants, and percentage of freshman receiving non-federal student loans. The following information if for six of the schools that show up in the search results.

The IPEDS information doesn’t split out Institutional Grants by those with need and those without. You can look up the colleges on the website and find out how many students without financial need received merit awards and for how much. You can also see what percentage of graduates have loans and for how much as well as the percentage of parents ended up taking out PLUS loans.

The site also lists the average GPA and test scores of the freshman class which can further refine your search.

Of course, the better your scores, the wider range of school you can start with in your pool.  If you up the SAT scores to 650 each then you have over 400 schools to start with. In such a case, you might increase your graduation requirement to 45% which would narrow your pool to only 244 schools.

The point is that if you change your attitude from “what are the highest ranked colleges I can get into” to “what colleges want me to help improve their rankings,” you’ll considerably improve your chances for merit scholarships.

About The Author

Today’s guest article comes from Michelle Kretzschmar. Michelle blogs on how to find a college with a focus on using data to make the best choices possible.  She created her own spreadsheet to target the best colleges where her son could study history and play baseball. She has a step-by-step description on how to download IPEDS data at her website

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One Response to “College Rankings Can Help Students Pay For College”


  1. […] College Rankings Can Help Students Pay For College This a guest post I wrote on how to use college rankings to look for non-need financial aid, otherwise known as merit aid. No related posts. << Help Me Find a College: Missouri Are College Baseball Players Happy? >> […]