Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges with Merit-Based Scholarships

Many students don’t qualify for need-based financial aid offered at most colleges, yet they can’t necessarily afford private university tuition costs. Because of this, many end up at state schools by default.
The truth is, students with strong academic records may qualify for merit-based scholarships at a number of liberal arts colleges, which offer a more personalized education that’s often a better fit.

This post looks at 10 colleges providing merit-based aid to a high percentage of students, including their rankings on U.S. News & World Report’s National Liberal Arts Colleges list.

1. Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 36%
Tuition: $48,682
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,911
U.S. News ranking: 23

Oberlin is home to the country’s oldest continuously operating conservatory, located less than an hour west of Cleveland. Most classes have fewer than 20 students, and Oberlin is consistently rated as one of the friendliest campuses for LGBT students.

2. Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 31%
Tuition: $40,496
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,567
U.S. News ranking: 40

Whitman College in rural eastern Washington State is known for attracting high achievers involved in student life, outdoor activities and volunteering (a full 70% of Whitman students volunteer). Whitman boasts a cozy 9:1 student to faculty ratio, and is considered highly selective with just a 40% acceptance rate.

3. Tulane University (New Orleans, LA)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 33%
Tuition: $42,726
Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,993
U.S. News ranking: 41

Tulane is one of the country’s most respected institutions, and is located in historic New Orleans. Founded in 1834 as a medical college, Tulane is still known today for its science and medical programs.

4. Centre College (Danville, KY)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 38%
Tuition: $37,120
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,381
U.S. News ranking: 45

Half an hour south of Lexington, Kentucky is Centre College, a small school with approximately 1,300 students. All Centre students are guaranteed the opportunity to do three things: study abroad, complete an internship or research experience and graduate in four years. It’s also priced significantly lower than other schools on the list.

5. Rhodes College (Memphis, TN)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 50%
Tuition: $36,464
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,798
U.S. News ranking: 51

Surrounded by gothic stone buildings at Rhodes College, you might guess you were in Oxford rather than historic Midtown Memphis. Rhodes is known for its strong academics and small class sizes. Alumni enjoy roughly 95% acceptance rates to law and business schools; the medical school acceptance rate is almost twice the national average.

6. DePauw University (Greencastle, IN)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 42%
Tuition: $36,970
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,323
U.S. News ranking: 51

DePauw University prides itself on having no teaching assistants, meaning students are taught only by professors (at many big state schools, grad students teach lower level classes). It also has a high proportion of students who study abroad, as well as one of the most popular college radio stations in the nation.

7. Furman University (Greenville, SC)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 41%
Tuition: $39,560
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,687
U.S. News ranking: 51

Furman University is located in Greenville, South Carolina, seated at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s known for its rigorous academics and scenic beauty, and is also consistently named one of the most eco-friendly campuses in the nation.

8. Denison University (Granville, OH)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 44%
Tuition: $40,200
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,264
U.S. News ranking: 55

Granville is a small town roughly 30 miles east of Columbus, almost the dead center of Ohio. The school is intentional about attracting a diverse student population, with one in five students being first-generation college students and more than one in three from multicultural backgrounds.

9. Lawrence University (Appleton, WI)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 31%
Tuition: $38,481
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,414
U.S. News ranking: 57

Founded in 1847, Lawrence is known for its strong academics and its conservatory of music. It’s also nationally ranked for its proportion of students going on to earn doctorates. Unlike most schools, Lawrence does not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores to apply.

10. St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY)

Students receiving merit-based aid: 35%
Tuition: $42,735
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,333
U.S. News ranking: 60

St. Lawrence University in upstate New York is just a short hop away from Montreal, Canada. The school consistently ranks on national lists of liberal arts colleges, with a 97% placement rate for graduates in jobs or grad school. The school is also known for its beautiful campus.

While liberal arts colleges typically have a higher price tag than state schools, many offer merit-based aid to bright students, reducing the overall cost. Students with good grades are smart to apply to liberal arts colleges, which offer smaller class sizes and more one-on-one instruction. And who knows—taking a chance could pay off in the form of big scholarship money and a once-in-a-lifetime college experience.

Methodology

Credit Sesame researchers collected data from college websites and The College Board on annual tuition and student enrollment, with data on percentage of merit-based aid given and national academic ranking gathered from U.S. News and World Report listings. Each data point was given a rank, and these rankings were added to come up with an aggregate rank for each school.

Additional weight was given to percentage of students receiving merit-based aid; all other data points were given equal weight. Researchers then used these weighted rankings to place the schools in order from highest to lowest rank. This methodology allows readers to compare universities based on an aggregate ranking system that integrates multiple data points to provide unbiased school rankings.

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