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scholarship money

Financial Aid

A $51,840 Need-Based Scholarship

Case Study – $51,840 Need Based Scholarship

Here’s a case study from a student I recently worked with that you may find very encouraging if you know you are going to qualify for a need-based scholarships.

I’ll call this student Sam.

Before I share Sam’s story, here’s a quick run-down of the main 4 types of  college financial aid:

1. GRANTS – grants are FREE money, they do not have to be repaid.

Grants can be either need-based or NON-need based (non-need-based aid is not dependent on a family’s financial situation and is typically given for GPA and SAT or ACT scores).

Grants can come the state, the federal government, AND from the colleges themselves. Grants from a college’s own funds  are the largest source of free money for college – outstripping what states and federal government give combined (measured in billions of dollars). 

Grants that come from the college are called many things, but the clearest description is “tuition discount” (this is the term the colleges themselves use, though they may list them on the award letter as a  some type of scholarship).

2. LOANS – Federal  loans (which usually have low interest rates and are capped each year so a student can’t get into MASSIVE debt with these)  AND/or…

…private loans. Best to stay away from these! Private loans are what get families into that crushing level of debt).

3. WORK-STUDY –  the opportunity (not the guarantee) for a student to get a job on campus and use that money to help pay for college expenses.


From sources outside of the college or the government– such as from the Kiwanis Club or Dollars for Scholars, or X Company.

(These are NOT the best way to pay for college, despite what you see on scholarship search sites – who sell your email address to banks that want to market loans to you. ugh 🤨)

More on private scholarships here.

The best type of aid to get, of course, are grants and outside scholarships —  aka FREE money.

With that brief intro, here’s the example of how a generous need-based grant reduced the cost of a private college for Sam.

Sam’s family had an Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) of around $5,000 (in brief, that is the amount that every college in the US will expect you to pay, at a minimum, for one year of college).

Sam’s family had saved some money for college money for college and could afford to pay about $15,000-$20,000 per year. Sam hoped to go to a small, private college.

Because Sam’s EFC was low we targeted schools for hime that we thought would give him good need-based tuition discount.

Sam applied to 8 schools — and would have been happy to attend any of them. He had a number of offers, some better than others.

Sam’s choice was a small, private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania that offered him $51,840.00 PER YEAR in need based  aid (again, FREE money).

This came in a combination of the college’s own money, drawn from their endowment, and federal grants (Pell and Supplemental).


The need-based grant (aka FREE) The monies Sam was awarded reduced  the sticker price of $72,150 to $20,310:

$72,150 –  $51,840 (grants/scholarships)  = $20,310 (the amount the family paid for tuition, room & board).

Sam was also awarded $6,000 in federal loans and work study monies…not free money, but a way to help pay the remaining balance over time.

In this example, the cost of this small, private college was less than what Sam would have paid at his state’s public college.  

This is not, of course, always the case. But with a willingness to do some research, the possibility exists for many. I’ve helped students figure out how to make this happen, or something close, time and time again.

Major Point…  

If you want to bring down the sticker price of college, you need to choose the colleges you apply to based on the type of financial aid — need or merit — that you are most likely to qualify for.

By the way, If Sam’s family did NOT have financial need (as demonstrated via the required formula(s)), he would gotten NO or very little aid at this school.

That’s because some colleges do a great job with need-based aid, some do a great job with merit aid, and some do well with both.

If I had just one opportunity to give a tip to a family (that can’t or doesn’t want to pay full price for college), this is the tip I’d give:

If cost is a factor in your college decisions, as it is with most families, you need to determine if you will qualify for need or merit based aid (or both) before you start creating a list of colleges to apply to.

If you want to go into college fully informed so that you can strategize for affordability and make wise college financial aid decisions I’d love to help you!