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10 Colleges and Universities Where Merit Aid Is Most Common

Kelsey Sheehy

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 and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

A college's sticker price can be deceiving. The figure includes tuition and required fees, but not room and board, books or transportation. It also doesn't factor in free money - such as scholarships and grants.

Merit aid and need-based aid can shave dollars off a school's list price. The latter is based on financial need, something dependent students have little control over, but the former is typically a reward for strong academics.

[Learn more about paying for college.]

Some schools reward hard work and high marks more often than others. Cooper Union is a prime example. The New York City school's 2012-2013 sticker price was $40,250 for tuition and fees, but not a single student paid that amount.

All undergraduates at Cooper Union receive a full ride. Some receive need-based aid such as Pell Grants to cover the cost of tuition. Those who don't demonstrate financial need still have a full-tuition merit scholarship from the college to fall back on.

Cooper Union awarded merit scholarships to nearly 66 percent of undergraduates for 2012-2013 - more than any college in the country. The average award was $38,550.

The art- and engineering-focused school is an anomaly, though, as it guarantees a tuition-free education for all enrolled students. That will end in fall 2014 when the school reduces merit scholarships for incoming students to half the cost of tuition.

[Discover more tuition-free colleges.]

Other colleges and universities are generous with their merit awards, though. Close to half of the 1,399 degree-seeking students enrolled at Michigan's Hillsdale College during the 2012-2013 school year received money for their academic achievements. At Denison University in Ohio and DePauw University in Indiana nearly 44 percent of students received merit aid.

These schools, along with Cooper Union, are among the schools where merit aid awards for students with no financial need are the most common. On average, 44 percent of undergraduates at these schools received non-need-based aid for the 2012-2013 school year. That amount is nearly four times more than the nationwide average of roughly 12 percent, according to data reported by 1,038 ranked college and universities in an annual U.S. News survey.

[Explore the 2014 U.S. News Best Value Schools.]

Below are the institutions that awarded merit aid to the highest percentage of undergraduates for the 2012-2013 school year. Due to ties there are more than 10 schools on this list. Unranked colleges, which did not submit enough data for U.S. News to calculate a ranking, were not considered for this report.

School name (state) Percent of students who received non-need-based aid in 2012-2013 U.S. News rank and category
Cooper Union (NY) 65.8% 1, Regional Colleges (North)
Hillsdale College (MI) 48.9% 82, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Denison University (OH) 43.7% 50, National Liberal Arts Colleges
DePauw University (IN) 43.7% 54, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Samford University (AL) 42.3% 3, Regional Universities (South)
University of Tulsa (OK) 42.2% 86, National Universities
Western State Colorado University 41.2% RNP*, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Rhodes College (TN) 41.1% 54, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Hendrix College (AR) 39% 82, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Missouri Baptist University 38.9% RNP, Regional Universities (Midwest)
Trinity University (TX) 38.9% 1, Regional Universities (West)

*RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one-fourth of its ranking category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.

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. School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.

U.S. News surveyed nearly 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2013 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's 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 come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The merit aid data above are correct as of Sept. 12, 2013.

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