Financial Aid for College

Merit Scholarship

General (automatic): For each college that your student applies to, he/she must check to see what types of merit scholarships are offered, if any at all.  Many colleges offer merit scholarships for which admitted students receive automatic consideration; however, some of the most selective colleges in the country do not award any merit-based aid.

  • For colleges that do award merit aid, admitted applicants are likely to be considered for some form of these institutional merit scholarships or grants, and awards are often based on the students’ qualifying statistics. In some cases, the list of admitted students is forwarded to a scholarship office, which then sorts and allocates scholarships based on data.
  • The measures are usually some combination of SAT/ACT and GPA, and because those scores are sent to the colleges as part of the original application process for admission, there is nothing “extra” (aside from applying to the college) required for you to receive consideration for these types of scholarship(s) — which is why they can be referred to under “automatic consideration” — but you would still be wise to find out specifically which ones exist and in what quantities at the various colleges your family is considering. Statehood (for public schools) is often a factor, and diversity may be a significant factor also.

Academic Major or Departmental-based: For each school you apply to, you should scour the scholarship website and any departmental websites related to a potential major.  Many of these scholarships might also give students “automatic consideration” based upon the major listed in the application, or other factors, but this auto-consideration is not always the case.

  • Some may require an additional application.  Often these major or departmental scholarships are made available in the form of grants or stipends that are awarded to upperclassmen, but it is still wise to check and see if these scholarships exist for incoming freshmen.  Alternatively, you can ask an admissions representative if there are other scholarships (aside from the general automatic ones mentioned above).

Competitive University-sponsored Scholarships: Many colleges offer competitive scholarships with high tuition benefits/discounts for which a student must specifically apply for, in addition to (or as an optional part of) the college application.  In some cases, separate applications and/or nominations will be required.

Community-based Merit Scholarships: There are countless merit scholarships that are offered via community-based organizations, and even some that are given solely on the basis of merit, as opposed to some combination of financial need and merit.  The deadlines vary and these are almost never auto-consideration awards, so students need to pursue them vehemently if interested!

  • Please note that colleges may adjust their awards to students when they receive scholarship checks from community-based organizations. Some colleges may reduce your loan amount (as opposed to reducing the grant/scholarship amount), so the search is still worthwhile. But it’s helpful to be aware that community-based merit scholarships do not always cut the final cost of college to the degree expected, due to the colleges’ subsequent adjustments as a result of outside aid.

Many of these scholarships require essays and letters of recommendation.  We maintain a comprehensive sample listing at our scholarship portal that will be up-and-running soon.  The vast majority of these community-based scholarships will have deadlines in the spring of your senior year.

  • Each year, all seniors receive a copy of the DE Scholarship Compendium – a large document containing dozens of scholarships available only to Delawareans. This is a GOLD MINE!
  • The most important elements of scholarship review are pretty tangible.  These elements often include, but may not be limited to: the academic record, essay, financial need, recommendations, and the quality of applications the organizations receive from other students.


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oFree Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Colleges will require the FAFSA (which cannot be filled out until October 1 of a student’s senior year, and should be filled out by the holidays in December).  Parents will use financial information from the prior-prior year. When you are finished filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you can select the schools to which it will be sent (any college from which you are seeking need-based aid).

oCSS PROFILE: In addition to the FAFSA (federal methodology), some colleges will also require the CSS Profile in order to apply for financial aid. And if you are applying EA (Early Action) or ED (Early Decision) to a college, the CSS will likely be due near the time of the application for admission – potentially much sooner than the FAFSA deadline.  So check the college website for deadlines! The CSS deadlines can vary based on your application decision plan (ED, EA, RD, etc.) Most of the colleges that require the CSS are private. See here for a list:

oINSTITUTIONAL FORMS: Some colleges also require various forms in addition to the FAFSA and CSS, so students need to check all of their colleges’ financial aid websites for specific requirements.

oRETURN ON INVESTMENT: It’s also worthwhile to take a look at colleges’ return on investment measurements before deciding to apply: are also many colleges that are not particularly good at meeting need (e.g. Penn State University, NYU).You can check on College Board’s Big Future site to see how much need a college tends to meet (example below is Penn State):


oExpected Family Contribution (EFC): After submitting the FAFSA, families will also receive an EFC number. The EFC stands for Expected/Estimated Family Contribution.  This is a vital number to know as you are looking for need-based aid.  Colleges determine how much need-based financial aid they give you, in large part, based on this number.  Visit this site to get an estimate of what your EFC will be:

We strongly encourage you to complete an EFC calculator in order to help manage expectations.


  • For example, if the cost of attendance (tuition, room & board, books, fees) at a college is $50,000/yr., and your EFC (the amount they expect you to be able to pay out of pocket) is $10,000/yr. — then your need is $40,000.  Some colleges will meet all or nearly all of this need (see a list here of colleges that meet 100% need:, many others will also meet over 90%) — UD meets 100% of need for Delawareans only. This fact is what allows students to attend colleges that have those huge sticker prices of $50,000 and above.  If they meet all of your need, then it might not be so rough (although there may be loans involved). Then again, if your need is only $10,000 and you then have to pay $40,000/yr. — who really wants to pay $40,000 (regardless of your income) when you have a great school like the University of Delaware in your back yard and you want to eventually go to graduate school anyway?  Those are the types of smart discussions that often arise when families discuss their EFC projections.

Overview: Paying for College

Strategies for Funding College

Important Considerations in Analyzing College Costs 

Divorce, Step-parent, and Foster Care Situations

Do I Qualify for Need-based Aid?

In-state versus Out-of-state Tuition

Scholarship Displacement

A Message for Parents