Scholarships: Holding Less Sway

By Daniel McGinn

May 2, 2005 — For students admitted to several colleges, the clock is ticking: most schools require a deposit by May 1. Choosing can be tough enough—and these decisions are becoming trickier as schools offer more merit scholarships in hopes of luring brighter students to campus, which helps in rankings. Many of these scholarships go to students from affluent families, fueling a hot debate: should scarce dollars be used to fight over rich kids, instead of giving more low-income kids access to college?

For the families themselves, that question is less pressing than deciding if their child should, say, accept a full ride from University A or pay to attend College B. Amid growing pressure to find the “perfect” school, some pros speculate that the scholarships are holding less sway, with more affluent families willing to dig deep for their student’s ideal college. But there’s growing evidence that kids can excel at a wide range of schools, so Washington, D.C., adviser Steve Goodman says turning down a scholarship in order to attend a marginally more prestigious school is “not necessarily a rational thing to do.” Other experts insist intangibles like “fit” are worth a big price. Johns Hopkins financial-aid director Ellen Frishberg says: “We tell kids… don’t just go someplace because they gave you more money.” Whichever route they go, having a choice makes them lucky indeed

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