Strong SAT or ACT Scores get Scholarships
Over the last 15 years, I have tutored and coached hundreds of students to help them improve their SAT or ACT scores. In this post, I will show how strong test scores can reduce the actual cost to attend an excellent college or university.
We all know that strong SAT or ACT scores are important for admission to most selective colleges and universities. But, assuming your academic record and extracurriculars are good enough for admission, how much is it worth to you to increase your test scores? After hours of research on college websites I am able to answer that question – please read on.
All of the colleges I have visited in person (about 150) have said that their most important criteria for admission are a rigorous high school program and strong grades. But, a student with a very competitive class rank may be able to get into a selective college and still miss out on the generous scholarships that the college offers.
Many families come to me for advice and say up-front “We’re not going to qualify for any aid”, because of their income. They have no idea about the merit scholarships available to their child, regardless of their income, if their child applies with strong ACT or SAT scores.
Let’s start with an excellent college where generous scholarship aid is available regardless of high family income.
Sewanee, in Tennessee, is one of the “Hidden Ivies”, excellent colleges that are just not as well known as others. Sewanee has graduated 26 Rhodes Scholars (three since 2000); this is more than Amherst, Emory, Georgetown, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury, Northwestern, Penn, or Pomona.
Half of Sewanee’s freshmen who entered in 2015 received need-based aid. But another 32% did not qualify for any need-based aid and still received merit scholarships averaging $11,700. And Sewanee’s total cost of attendance (before any aid) is about $6,000 per year less than the cost of many other top colleges. When I visited, the college president told our group that Sewanee is determined to keep the college affordable for middle-class families.
What Gets the Scholarship Money?
Now, these scholarships are not automatic for students who are admitted. Sewanee, like many colleges that are not well known across the country, use merit scholarships to attract strong students. Often it’s the student’s SAT or ACT test scores that deliver the scholarship money. Colleges are willing to pay to attract bright students.
So, lets see how the net cost to attend Sewanee is affected by the student’s test scores alone. The student has a top 10% class rank and a 3.9 unweighted GPA.
(Note: all the scholarship data that follow are from the respective colleges’ net price calculators on their websites)
Sewanee Merit Scholarships
Here, you can see that a student with a 21 ACT score gets zero merit money. A 25 gets the student $8,000 per year or $32,000 over four years. An increase from 25 to 29 would increase the scholarship by $22,000 over 4 years. I’m choosing a 4-point increase because a student can usually achieve this if they do serious test preparation work.
In using the net price calculators, I entered ACT scores, and I show the comparable SAT scores next to them. Colleges accept either test and the student can submit the one they do best on.
There are dozens of excellent colleges and Universities that offer academic scholarships for the student and family who do not want to break the bank or go into lots of debt.
Now, it is important to understand that there are some colleges, particularly those located in the Northeast and a few on the west coast, that are not generous to high income families. Why? They do not need to be. Since they are so well known nationally, they get ten or twenty times as many applicants as they have room for and can pick and choose their students.
Consider this group:
Colleges Giving No Merit Scholarships
What distinguishes this group is that they give NO merit scholarships. While these colleges are generous towards students who have financial need, they are not generous to higher income families. If family income is over $200,000 or so per year and only one student is in college, you can expect to pay the full price to attend one of these colleges. And full cost of attendance at each of these schools is over $60,000 per year.
But let’s get back to the good news that there are many excellent colleges that do give merit scholarships to students from high-income families. In many cases the difference is that these colleges are not located in the Northeast or in an attractive city, so they have to “try harder” to attract top students.
OK, so we’ve seen that a 4-point ACT improvement can be worth $32,000 for a Sewanee applicant. Let’s look at a flagship state university that many of our students are interested in, Clemson. The student has a top 10% class rank and a 3.9 unweighted GPA. And here’s what the Clemson net price calculator says the student is likely to get in aid, with various scores.
Clemson Merit Scholarships
Here, you can see that a student with 27 ACT score gets zero merit money. A 31 gets the student $10,000 per year or $40,000 over four years. (This was verified by the experience of one of my students who is attending Clemson now with a $10,000 per year scholarship!)
Typically, a student who is considering Clemson is also considering NC State. NCSU does not include merit scholarships on their net price calculator, so we do not have comparable data for state. However the following published numbers from a recent class are interesting.
27% of the Clemson freshman class did not qualify for any need-based aid, and yet still received merit scholarships.
NC State had only 4.6% of its non-need students receive merit money. So, high-income NC State students are much more likely to pay full price.
While we’re looking at the state of South Carolina, let’s see what U of SC in Columbia does for one of our students.
U-SC Merit Scholarships
U-SC had 36% of it’s recent class that did not qualify for need-based aid, and who received merit scholarships. Improving ACTs from 27 to 31 gets the student over $80,000 over 4 years at South Carolina.
UNC-Chapel Hill, by contrast, awarded merit aid to 2.6% of it’s freshmen who didn’t qualify for need-based aid. UNC is so popular that they do not need to offer scholarships to attract students.
So, you can see that a 29 ACT gets the net cost of SC to less than the $24,630 cost for UNC for a NC resident.
The State of South Carolina applies a similar approach to in-state students. In recent years I have tutored (via Skype) many students, residents of SC, whose goal was to get a 29 ACT and qualify for the state’s “Palmetto Scholarship”, worth about $7,000 per year for in-state students.
Now let’s look at another private college that many of our students consider, Wofford:
Wofford Merit Scholarships
Wofford gives merit scholarships to many of its students. Increasing ACTs from 19 to 23 gets an additional $7740 per year or $30,960 over four years. Improving from 25 or 27 to 29 gets an additional $13,920 in scholarship money.
Strong ACT or SAT Scores Get ScholarshipsIn summary, many excellent colleges award merit scholarships to attract strong students. This often makes a difference of tens of thousands of dollars in the cost over four years. So, investing $1000 or $2000 in SAT or ACT tutoring can pay big dividends. Also, getting strong SAT or ACT scores can make some flagship out-of-state universities cost no more that our NC universities, and some of them are easier to get into than UNC or NC State.
I currently have some openings in my schedule for SAT or ACT prep.
Call me at (910) 528-5595.