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How Good ACT/SAT Scores Can Help Pay for College

By June 21, 2023July 5th, 2023Admissions, For Students, National Merit, Scores
“Our son has been offered a full ride to UT Austin and his ACT score played a big role in earning this honor.”
– Fiona L., Compass parent, North Carolina

Before investing in 1-on-1 test preparation, families should consider the value of ACT and SAT scores in today’s college landscape. While the initial goal may be to improve one’s admission chances, test scores can also enhance a student’s prospects for earning merit money.

To illustrate the range of merit award opportunities, Compass has assembled a sampling of schools that offer scholarships tied to ACT and SAT scores. Dollar amounts vary based on factors beyond grades and test scores. Qualifying criteria may include institutional priorities, intended major, demonstration of service or leadership, a specific status (such as first generation, geography, heritage, or legacy), and—once awarded—maintenance of a certain level of performance in college. Check each college’s website—or call the financial aid office—for the most current and complete information.

Special thanks to Arman Avasia, Compass Program Manager, for compiling this data:

SchoolPublic or PrivateScores Required or RecommendedScore Range or Cutoff ScoreScholarship NameScholarship Amount
Any 4 year collegeN/ARequiredACT: 28
SAT: 1240
Engebretson Foundation Scholarship$5,000 per semester
Any 4 year collegeN/ARecommendedACT: 27
SAT: 1300
The Kim and Harold Louie Family Foundation ScholarshipVaries annually
Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, or University of ArizonaPublicRequiredVaries annuallyFlinn ScholarFull cost of tuition/fees/room board (valued at $130,000)
Auburn UniversityPublicRequiredACT: 33
SAT: 1450
Academic Presidential Scholarship$16,500 annually
Bryant UniversityPrivateRecommendedVaries, but 27+ (ACT) and 1250+ (SAT) are typicalBryant Academic Scholarship$5,000-35,000
Butler UniversityPrivateRecommendedAcademic Scholarship Program$15,000-24,000 annually
College of Saint MaryPrivateRecommendedACT: 23Marie Curie Scholarship$20,000 annually
Colorado Christian UniversityPrivateRequiredACT: 30
SAT: 1410
World Changers ScholarshipFull tuition ($35,436 annually)
Colorado Mesa UniversityPublicRecommendedACT: 29
SAT: 1340
Distinguished Scholar$6,000 (out-of-state residents) $9,000 (in-state residents)
Emory UniversityPrivateRecommendedWoodruff Scholars
Florida A&M UniversityPublicRequiredACT: 32 (at least 32 in Math)
SAT: 1440 (at least 700 in Math)
Distinguished Scholars AwardFull Tuition ($5,785 in-state/$17,725 out-of-state) annually
Georgia Institute of TechnologyPublicRequiredSAT: 1500Godbold Family FoundationUp to Full tuition ($31,370) annually
Morehouse CollegePrivateRequiredACT: 26
SAT: 1200
Oprah Winfrey ScholarshipVaries, but up to Full Tuition ($27,098)
Niagara UniversityPrivateRecommendedSAT: 1250Niagara Trustees' Scholarship$24,000
Northwestern UniversityPrivateRecommendedN/AQuestbridgeVaries based on student contribution, but scholarship is needs based
Notre Dame UniversityPrivateRecommendedCrowley Family Scholarship$25,000 annually
Oklahoma State UniversityPublicRequired99.5 percentile or higher (around 34 ACT/1520 SAT)Oklahoma State Regents' Academic Scholars Program Award$3,500-6,000
Ole MissPublicRequiredACT: 29
SAT: equivalent to 29 on the ACT (~1340)
Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant$2,500
Ottawa University (Arizona)PrivateRequiredACT: 27
SAT: 1260
Presidential Elite ScholarshipFull tuition ($31,900)
Salve Regina UniversityPrivateRecommendedVaries annuallyAcademic Scholarships$14,000-25,000
Sam Houston State UniversityPublicRequiredACT: 29
SAT: 1320
Sam Houston Honors Scholarship$10,000 annually
Santa Clara UniversityPrivateRecommendedACT: 30
SAT: 1400
Johnson ScholarFull tuition ($58,587)
Seton Hall UniversityPrivateRequiredACT: 23
SAT: 1170
Dan Barney Memorial Scholarship$1,000
Texas A&M UniversityPublicRequiredWelch Scholar
Texas Christian UniversityPrivateRecommendedACT: 30-34
SAT: 1360-1500
Founders'/TCU/Faculty/Dean's/Chancelor's$12,000-full tuition ($57,130)
Texas State UniversityPublicRecommendedACT: 32
SAT: 1420
President's Honor Scholarship$12,000 annually
Tuskegee UniversityPrivateRequiredACT: 28-32+
SAT: 1300-1420+
Distinguished PresidentialFull Tuition/room/board/book stipend ($26,478)
UMass DartmouthPublicRequiredACT: 32
SAT: 1450
University Commonwealth ScholarshipTuition/Fees ($30,992)
University of Alabama PublicRequiredACT: 32
SAT: 1420
University of DenverPublicRecommendedVaries annuallyRocky Mountaint/Chancellor$10,000-33,000
University of FloridaPublicRequiredACT: 29
SAT: 1340
Florida Academic ScholarsFull tuition ($6,380)
University of IllinoisÑChicagoPublicRecommendedACT: 33
SAT: 1450
Chancellor's FellowUp to $7,500
University of LouisvillePublicRequiredACT: 26
SAT: 1230
McConnell ScholarUp to full tuition ($12,324)
University of MissouriPublicRequiredACT: 32
SAT: 1420
Stamps Scholars AwardsFull tuition ($17,722) + one time $16,000 award
University of MissouriPublicRequiredACT: 29 Math/25 English
SAT: 950 Math/750 Reading & Writing
MSPE Western Chapter Scholar$2,000
University of NebraskaÑLincolnPublicGeorge Beadle Scholarship$15,000
University of Southern CaliforniaPrivateRequiredNational Merit FinalistPresidentialHalf Tuition (approx $31,734)
Vanderbilt UniversityPrivateRecommendedCornelius Vanderbilt ScholarsFull tuition + one summer stipend ($58,130 minimum)
Washington University at St. LouisPrivateRecommended"Top ranges" of SAT/ACTJames M McKelvey Undergraduate Research Award$5,000
West Liberty UniversityPublicRequiredACT: 30
SAT: 1400
Full Ride Elbin ScholarshipFull tuition, fees, room and board ($29,170)

Like the admission process, most merit awards consider or recommend, but do not require, ACT or SAT scores. However, standards for merit money are higher than those for admissions. Not all admitted students receive merit discounts, so you may see a college present a neutral stance for test scores in admissions but encourage submission of scores to win merit aid.  

In fact, some schools that are test optional for admissions require scores for financial merit. Auburn University is an example of a school that is selectively test optional for admissions while requiring tests for certain scholarships. The University of Iowa, too, is test optional for admissions, but suggests some merit scholarships are scarce for those who apply without scores:

“Typically, students who are admitted with test scores above institutional averages (25.7 ACT/1230 SAT) will have more opportunities for merit scholarships compared to students who are admitted without a test score.” 

The most selective institutions tend to offer the least amount of merit funds and to the fewest number of students. At some highly-selective institutions, only 3-5% of an incoming class will receive merit awards. As a result, strong applicants who apply to a sensible range of schools may find themselves choosing between a more selective institution at or near full price and a less selective institution at a meaningful discount.

However, even highly selective schools have been known to pay rewards for stellar test scores. Students with PSAT scores high enough to qualify as National Merit Finalists enjoy a range of merit options from several thousand dollars to full scholarships. In recent years, schools such as University of Chicago, Northeastern University, and the University of Southern California have presented merit awards to a combined 500 students annually. (Special thanks to Les Mathew from The Extra Mile College Admissions for compiling this free and public resource of National Merit Scholarships offered at over 180 colleges.)

 When planning for 1-on-1 or group test preparation, weigh the investment of test preparation against its potential return in discounted tuition value. At some schools, even an additional 1-2 ACT points will save thousands of dollars per year. 

The tutoring and testing plan developed by Compass resulted in my son increasing his SAT score by 190 points. That was not only crucial for his college admissions but it also earned scholarships from every one of his schools.
– Dan G, Compass parent, California
Eric Anderson

Eric graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a Rhodes Scholarship campus nominee and an award-winning Global Studies instructor. After joining our LA team in 2015, Eric returned to his hometown of Chicago to open Compass’s midwest office.

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