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12 Aug Do Better SAT Scores Or A Higher GPA Really Get More Financial Aid?

One of the most common questions that I hear from high school students and their parents is about grades and SAT scores. Many of them believe that unless you have a perfect 4.0 GPA or score higher than a 2000 (out of 2400) on the SAT’s, it will not affect their financial aid. But is this true?

Every college and university has its own internal guidelines, but I have found that there are certain break points that most colleges use when handing out merit based financial aid.

Private Schools: At most private colleges, academic or merit aid is awarded to incoming students based on their SAT or ACT scores. An SAT score of 1,800 or higher (out of 2,400) or an ACT score of 23 or higher (out of 36) will usually qualify for some academic scholarship money. The higher scores will usually qualify for more. Most private schools offer as much as 50% of their entire cost in merit aid to qualified students in an effort to make their college comparably priced to a state school.

State Schools: While state schools generally have a lower cost of attendance and offer less merit based financial aid, those with better grades and test scores will be offered those academic dollars. The test score levels for most state schools are the same as private colleges, but each school may slide their scale up or down depending on the group of incoming freshman each year.

Community Colleges: The majority of community colleges do not offer merit based aid or scholarships. But the lower cost of these colleges can be a real attraction for some students that want to study two years at a community college then transfer to a four-year college to finish their degree.

Possible Solutions:

If you need to get those SAT or ACT scores higher try the following methods. Ranked from least expensive to most expensive, but remember if you can get an additional $2,000 to $15,000 each year for four years… they are all “Relatively” inexpensive.

FREE SAT/ACT Prep Programs: There are a variety of free resources out there to help prepare and improve scores. With a quick search on Google, you will find sites like – Number2.com, CollegeBoard.com and 4Tests.com. They each have some great free help.

SAT Prep. Books: A quick book search on Amazon or Barnes & noble will find many good books to help increase your scores. Take a look at “Up Your Score”, “Cracking the SAT” and “How to Survive the SAT”. For under $20, you could add enough extra points to qualify for more academic aid.

SAT/ACT Software: There are plenty of software programs available from Kaplan, Swift and others that will provide plenty of help and practice exams. These programs run from $10 to about $50 and if you like interactive computer preparation, they can help considerably.

SAT/ACT Online Prep Programs: Many companies offer both online prep programs and personal tutoring programs. For as little as $80 or as high as $2,000, you can use Sylvan Learning, Princeton Review and Huntington Learning Centers to help structure an online or in person program to help strengthen your weaknesses. You can always start small and if you need more help, take on a more personalized approach.

School Sponsored Prep. Programs: Ask your local high school guidance department if they offer any programs. Many high schools have specific faculty members that offer SAT/ACT prep classes in the evening over the course of several weeks. They generally charge a fee for workbooks and attendance that can range from $200 up to $500. It might be a better idea to take a class from a different high school in your area where your student will be exposed to a different group of teachers. Sometimes, all it takes is a different viewpoint to make these exams easier to understand.

Private Tutor: As a last alternative, you could hire a private tutor to focus your study efforts on your weak areas. Private tutors can run anywhere from $20 per hour up to over $100 per hour depending on your location. How many hours you will need depends on your current levels of understanding. For some students, this individual attention can actually cost less due to the concentration of your efforts.

Summary: Without a doubt, if your student is looking at going to college and/or needs some assistance with preparation for these exams, it can be very cost-effective to pay for some extra help. At private colleges it can be the difference of receiving $15,000 each year or receiving none. With state schools, it could be the difference between no merit aid… or getting $2,000 or more each year.

But if your student is already deciding on a local community college, you may want to focus your efforts on the lower cost preparation alternatives as very little merit aid will be offered. So make sure that you discuss the alternatives, evaluate your present situation and plan a strategic course of action that will best fit your needs.

Keith Maderer

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