How to Predict Merit Aid in a Strange College Application Season

Untold numbers of high school seniors have had trouble finding convenient places to take standardized tests during the pandemic, while others have health issues that make doing so risky. In the spring, many of them got pass-fail grades or are grappling with other altered academic standards. And plenty of extracurricular activities may be limited or are gone altogether.

So what is a student who is seeking merit aid from colleges to do, given that such evaluations are based on those scores and grades, not to mention the very activities that are no longer possible?

To review, there are two main ways to pay less than full price for college. One is pretty straightforward, the other somewhat more mysterious.

The straightforward discount comes from need-based financial aid, when a school determines your ability to pay by looking at income and certain assets. Net price calculators on school websites predict the assistance a school might offer.

The second is merit aid, when the quality of applicants’ grades, test scores and extracurricular activities can lead to offers that have little to do with their parents’ financial standing. These renewable discounts can range from a few thousand dollars to a full ride and are often awarded without a separate application.

Like so much else, merit aid may not work the way it did 12 months ago. In this fundamentally altered admissions season, how is any college supposed to figure out who should get a discount coupon of $100,000 or more?

“I think you’re trying to get me to go pour a drink,” said Nathan Ament, chief enrollment officer at Loyola

Keep reading this article on The New York Times Your Money.

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