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2021: The Year of Merit Scholarships

The wheeling and dealing has already begun. Colleges that use merit scholarships are actively giving out acceptances bundled with major scholarships attached. Why? Because the tables are turned now, and colleges worry that their yield rates will be negatively impacted by the pandemic.

A college's yield rate is the percentage of students who accept the offer of admission. In a normal year, most colleges struggle with yield. Apart from the elite colleges, I anticipate yield rates to take a hit this year. And that is why colleges are doing everything in their power to get a student to enroll. With limited on-campus events and concerns about not being able to enroll a full freshman class, merit scholarships are one of the only strategies colleges have left to utilize this year. 

If you get accepted to a college that offers merit scholarships, here is what you need to know in 2021:

1. Not all colleges provide the merit scholarship at the time of acceptance.

Read your decision letter carefully to find out if/when you will be notified about a merit scholarship.

2. If you were hoping for more merit than you received, all is not lost.

Appealing for more merit money is not usually advertised by a college, but is very common to do among students.

3. Did another college give you a better offer?

If the college that gave you more merit money is considered a true competitor to the college you want more money from, be ready to use it.

4. The strongest appeals for more merit aid come from the student, not the parent. 

5. To appeal for more merit aid, write a formal letter to the admissions office. 


6. The formal letter should include an update on any new achievements (especially academic in nature) that weren't represented in your original application.

In the letter, explain that the only way you can attend is if you receive more merit aid. And include the better offers from the other colleges you received more merit from. If it's a director competitor to the college you are hoping to get more money from, you will have a better chance of getting more aid.

7. As soon as you know all of your offers, send the appeal letter and the other offers ASAP.

RELATED READING: Waiting for Regular Decision Results? Here's a 5-Step Plan 

8. If the college gets back to you with zero dollars or not enough, appeal again.

This time, closer to the May 1 enrollment deadline. The closer we get to May 1st, the more pressure colleges will feel about meeting their enrollment goals for the fall.

9. Because some colleges will be extending the May 1st enrollment deposit several days or even weeks this year due to the pandemic, you may be able to appeal for more money later than usual.


10. If you accept your spot on a waitlist and send a follow-up letter, don't be surprised if you get an offer of acceptance with a merit scholarship as 2021 can also be dubbed "The Year of the Waitlist."

READ MORE: What Colleges Don't Tell You About the Waitlist

The first half of the admissions cycle was focused on the colleges with huge application increases. But the same number of spots in the freshman class typically remains the same every year for a college. While elite colleges will be fine with their yield and enrollment this year, most colleges will not be fine. We are about to observe how difficult it is for a college to yield a class in a pandemic. In the second half of this admissions cycle, get ready for merit scholarships, merit appeals, increases in merit money, and plenty of acceptances from the waitlist coming your way.