Note: It’s the busy season at Curtis Hier & Associates, as it is at every college consultant agency. It’s college application season!  So blog posts will be sparse for a few months. Our followers can stay connected with us on social media.

Education author Jeff Selingo distinguishes between colleges and universities that are “buyers” and colleges and universities that are “sellers.” There are many characteristics that differentiate the two. Put simply, the buyers really want to fill their classrooms and dormitories. Sellers know they’ll have no trouble filling their classrooms and dormitories.

One important difference between the two is how aggressively they dangle merit aid in front of students and their parents. The elite colleges and universities, as a general rule, don’t offer merit aid at all. Not one of the Ivy League institutions does, and practically none of the top liberal arts colleges do. They only want to use their institutional aid on students with financial need. It’s common that their large endowments allow them to meet 100 percent need. The buyers want middle (and upper middle) class students to attend, and they’re willing to — no, they HAVE to — live with high admit rates and lower GPAs. One would think the law of supply and demand would require low tuition rates.

But it’s attractive to students to be offered tens of thousands of dollars in merit aid. As a high school teacher, I actually heard seniors basically bragging about their institutional merit scholarship awards. At least comparing them.  Merit scholarships are incentives to enroll. Again, these schools need to fill their classes and dorms. You can think of them as discounts. Say tuition at a particular college is $45,000. That college offers a student $15,000 a year in aid. Think of it as an offer to pay for three years and get one year free.

That certainly doesn’t mean students shouldn’t grab that money. They should pay attention to make sure they meet scholarship deadlines. Many schools require no more than an application for admission. But some of those schools require that applications be in at an earlier date than the regular admission deadline.  Also make sure you have the FAFSA completed by the school’s priority deadline, usually a bit later.

More and more schools are no longer considering test scores for scholarships. Some are. (It’s well worth preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT.) Institutional scholarships are available to students with 3.0 GPAs or even less.  That is true also of private non-institutional scholarships. It is worth it to apply to small private non-institutional scholarships. They’re sponsored by churches, fraternal organizations, and families that want to memorialize a loved one. The $500-2000 they typically award have not kept up with exploding tuition costs. But every bit helps and means less borrowing. And the smaller scholarships get fewer applicants. Some of these are one-time. Others are renewable but require a new application every year.  Get those applications in!