I'm not sure many high school juniors are thinking about their college search right now, but the hour is growing late. Time is also running to to figure out how to finance four years in college. This year's juniors won't have to pay their matriculation fees for another 18 months, but planning needs to have started yesterday.
Most people don't qualify for need-based aid, so that leaves fairly limited choices in seeking colleges with good merit aid. But those choices are out there.
Some of the most generous merit aid packages are offered closest to home, at Ole Miss. Ole Miss offers partial- to full-tuition scholarships based on student ACT score, and unlike most colleges, only a 3.0 high school grade-point-average is required. Students with a 3.5 g.p.a. do get additional money, though.
Ole Miss offers numerous merit scholarships, and they are stackable, which means they can be cobbled together to create a full-ride scholarship. The Academic Excellence Award is the one of most interest, and it only requires a 3.0 high school average. It's an automatic merit scholarship granted according to ACT scores; an ACT of 27 gets $2,250 while a score of 32 gets $7,500, which is a few dollars short of full tuition. Out-of-state students get partial non-resident waivers, which rise to a full waiver. For students with a 3.5 high school g.p.a., an additional $1,500 to $2,700 is available. (The chart can be found by following the link, above).
When I was in high school, the only kids I remember taking the ACT twice were a few people who didn't score high enough to get into Mississippi State. Jockeying for higher scores was just not something we did back then.
But it certainly pays for students to do it now! Ole Miss rewards ACT scores as low as 24 with a $1,000 per year scholarship. So there is an incentive for virtually all incoming students to seek a higher ACT score by taking the test again; and again; and again.
The Academic Excellence Award states that qualifying tests can be taken up until enrollment. So high school seniors planning to enroll at Ole Miss should just keep taking the ACT in hopes of getting a higher score, because the higher the score, the greater the scholarship. Some students do better on the SAT, and students should take it, too, as an SAT score can be used for the Academic Excellence Award.
Some people will never be able to post a high ACT score, but many have low scores because they have trouble finishing sections or with the math or science. These problems can be resolved with practice. A nephew of mine had trouble finishing the ACT and scored a 24 on his first attempt; on his eighth try he made a 34. It can be done!
For those who are just bound and determined to attend a cow college, Mississippi State has scholarships that are similar to those offered at Ole Miss. The MSU grants look to be a little less generous on the low end but include some bells and whistles on the high end, such as one year of free room for those with a 34 or higher.
I've often mentioned the University of Alabama's generous National Merit Scholarship. Ole Miss has one, too, but Alabama also offers a good ACT scholarship. Students with a 32 or higher on the ACT with a 3.5 g.p.a. get a full tuition scholarship for four years. A unique feature of the Alabama scholarship is that it rolls over to graduate or law school, so that a student who arrives with lots of AP and dual enrollment credit might be able to get an almost-free graduate degree.
It's easy enough to find out what merit aid offers are out there; just Google the name of the college and the words "merit scholarship." But do it now, because some merit aid requires applications as early as August.
Juniors and seniors with any chance of ACT-based merit aid should take the ACT just as many times as is possible. It's going to be given to every junior in Mississippi in April, and there are paid test dates in April, June, September, October, and December.
Just take it every time, kids. The more money you can save your parents, the more spending money they can give you for all the extra stuff that makes college fun. So everybody wins!
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