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10 Colleges That Give Merit Aid to the Most Students

Emma Kerr

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matter to you in your college or grad school search.

Merit aid is one of the most desirable forms of financial aid used to pay for college. It does not need to be repaid and does not require students to meet a certain need threshold.

Students must demonstrate some kind of talent, whether academic or otherwise, to receive most merit aid grants and scholarships. This aid is typically awarded by institutions themselves, but students can also receive merit aid from outside organizations like the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which awards scholarships annually based on high school students' PSAT scores and other materials, including an application.

[Read: How You Can Win a National Merit Scholarship.]

Some schools offer no merit aid. Ivy League institutions, like Yale University in Connecticut and Princeton University in New Jersey, will often meet full financial need with various forms of aid but offer no merit scholarships or grants to students who do not have demonstrated financial need.

However, overall, private colleges are more likely to offer students merit aid than their public counterparts, according to U.S. News data. All but one of the 10 colleges that offer merit aid to the most students are private institutions.

Fort Valley State University in Georgia is the exception, awarding 94% of its students non-need-based aid in 2018-2019. At public schools, on average, out-of-state students receive more merit aid than in-state students, and there are some public colleges that award the majority of their out-of-state students merit aid.

Among the 1,093 ranked colleges that reported this data to U.S. News in an annual survey, Oklahoma Baptist University and Vanguard University of Southern California tied with Fort Valley State University for the colleges that give the most students merit aid. Each provided 94% of its students with non-need-based aid.

The average percentage of full-time students who were awarded merit aid in 2018-2019 was 66% among the 10 colleges on this list. This is much higher than the average percentage of students who received merit aid among all ranked schools that reported this data, which was about 15% in the same academic year.

These 10 institutions are located across the country, in areas like the South and the Midwest. Some are ranked highly in regional categories, but only two are ranked as National Universities, which are schools that are often research-oriented and offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as master's and doctoral programs. One college, Denison University in Ohio, is ranked No. 43 among National Liberal Arts Colleges, which are schools that focus on undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study.

[Read: Strategies for Students Too Rich for Financial Aid, Too Poor for College.]

Below is a list of the 10 ranked colleges where the highest percentage of full-time students in 2018-2019 received merit aid. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

School (state) Percentage of full-time students awarded merit Aid in 2018-2019 U.S. News rank and category
Oklahoma Baptist University 94% 7 (tie), Regional Colleges (West)
Fort Valley State University (GA) 94% 96-122, Regional Universities (South)
Vanguard University of Southern California 94% 43 (tie), Regional Universities (West)
Keiser University (FL) 73% 272 (tie), National Universities
Indiana Wesleyan University--Marion 60% 25 (tie), Regional Universities (Midwest)
Fairfield University (CT) 52% 3, Regional Universities (North)
Trinity University (TX) 50% 1, Regional Universities (West)
Oberlin College (OH) 49% 33 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges
Samford University (AL) 49% 147 (tie), National Universities
Denison University (OH) 48% 43 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find financial aid data, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,900 colleges and universities for our 2019 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News' data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News' rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The financial aid data above is correct as of Dec. 10, 2019.

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