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  • Allison Grandits

Scholarship Inflation Part 1: The Million Dollar Scholarships

Updated: Apr 23

Academic Building with the text "The Million Dollar Scholarships"

Every year, the media finds multiple high school students who earned over a million dollars to pay for college. There was the senior from Alabama who received $2 million, the student from Georgia who earned over $5 million, or the teenager from Louisiana who set a record last year for earning a whopping $9 million in scholarships. These stories sound unbelievable, because they are. Not because these students weren't offered this amount of money to attend college but because almost all of these scholarship dollars are tied to individual institutions, and the student can only attend one.


Let's dive in deeper:

The student from Alabama was admitted to 82 colleges and received $2 million in scholarship offers. If every school awarded him the same scholarship award, that would equal just over $24,000. If this award is over 4 years, which most are, that would be just over $6,000 a year for four years. Say only half of the colleges (41) gave the student a scholarship, and all scholarships were equal. Each school's award amount would be $48,780, or about $12,000 annually.


The Georgia student was admitted to over 130 colleges and earned over $5 million. Again, if each one of these schools gave her a scholarship, the award amount would be $38,461 or $9,615 a year. If half of the schools gave an equal award, that would be $66,666 or $16,666/year. Better, but still about half of the average cost of attending a four-year college in the US.


For the Louisiana student who broke the record by earning $9 million, he applied to 200(!) schools and was admitted to 170. The article says, "One of the most impressive aspects of this record is that there are no third-party scholarships. Rather, the offers all came directly from the schools," so we know he won't be able to use anywhere close to that total amount for college. His average is higher than the other profiles ($52,941 or $13,235/year). If only 25% of the colleges (42.5) awarded him a scholarship, that total would be $211,764 or $52,941/year, just under the average cost of attendance for a student living on campus at a private university.


These articles show up every year and are celebrated. Looking at the comments, many people wish they were in this position or that their students had this opportunity. And I get it. College is expensive, and we SHOULD celebrate when our students receive recognition for their hard work. However, even with $9 million in awards, that student may still not have enough money to attend college without family support and/or student loans. Even if possible, he still has to sort through 170 college decisions to decide which school he wants to attend in just a few short months, which would be VERY stressful. Many of my students need help choosing between 2 or 3- I can’t imagine researching 170 colleges in a month.


On the other hand, these articles provide great hope to those caught up in the competitive admissions landscape. The high school I was a counselor at would read the total number of scholarship dollars earned at graduation to celebrate the hard work of the Class of 20xx. Now in my business, I collect this data from my clients and share the percentage of my students who received a scholarship, the average award amount, and total amounts. I do this to remind families that college can be more affordable than what the sticker price shows, and that there’s a wide range of opportunities available. Despite hearing that SelectiveU denied more students than ever before, most colleges still admit the majority of applicants, and many schools out there want your student to come. In recent years, I have had students receive anywhere from $1000 to a full-ride to a private college (valued at $73k/year), with much of the awards falling somewhere in between.


Most of my students seek merit aid, BUT their lists are strategic. We are digging into the data of who actually awards scholarships and who doesn't and what those averages are. Some colleges, like the University of Alabama, make it very easy to know what to expect before you apply. You can clearly see on their scholarship chart that if you have a 3.5 and a 29 ACT, you will get an automatic award of $15k/year. You can also see that if you bring that up to a 30, it increases by 9k/year, so maybe you do a prep course to raise your score. You can also see that unless you make a 36, your max merit tops out when you hit a 32, so you could be done with the ACT.


Other colleges are less transparent, so we must look at other data sources, such as Common Data. Then, if we see that Middlebury only awarded 0 students non-need based (merit) aid or that Tufts' only merit aid is a $500/semester award for National Merit Finalists, we adjust the lists accordingly. For the families who desire to fund their college process with outside awards, they are often disheartened when discovering how limited these funds actually are, since the majority of college scholarships come directly from the institution. 


As an independent college counselor, I recognize the importance giving empowerment to families, particularly those who often find themselves priced out of schools on their radar and are feeling overwhelmed by the admissions process. I hope to equip students with the knowledge they need to make dynamic decisions.

Rather than fixating on the pursuit of elusive mega-scholarships, let's shift our focus to strategic planning. By aligning with colleges that offer the right kind of aid for individual circumstances, families can navigate the admissions journey with confidence and clarity while finding their GRAND fit school.


Do you have questions about admissions? Want to get a jump start on your college planning? Contact Allison or visit Grand Fit Educational Consulting for more information.

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