Making College More Affordable With State-Based Aid
When preparing your students for college, don’t forget to make use of state based aid. Knowing where to look for scholarships and merit-based money can help your family make ends meet before turning to borrowing.

In the last post, we started looking at ways to get money for college from the federal government without borrowing money.

We noted that the options include a Pell grant (currently capped at $7,395 as of 2023-2024 award year*) and a Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), which is a maximum of $4,000. Assuming that a year of college costs $25,000, federal money would only take us about 40% of the way toward our goal.

So for the next source of financial aid before borrowing, we turn to state aid.


State Scholarships

Each state has its own scholarship program, and if you’re eligible for a state scholarship, it’s going to make attending a state school much more affordable. In West Virginia, that’s the PROMISE scholarship. That’s a statewide, merit-based scholarship awarded to residents with a 3.0 grade-point average and a 22 ACT score. Your family’s income doesn’t matter: As long as you qualify and apply, you get the scholarship, which is capped at $4,750 a year.

West Virginia has a few other scholarships, including the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Scholarship and the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship. (A full list is available here.)

But for our purposes, let’s say you’ve gotten the full Pell Grant, the full SEOG, and the PROMISE scholarship. That’s still less than $15,000. Where are you going to get the other $10,000 you need?


Merit-based Money

Here’s where you turn to merit-based money.

Most universities post their guaranteed scholarships on their website: If you have this ACT score and this GPA, you get this much money.

Then you have competitive scholarships—you have to have this GPA and this ACT to compete for the scholarship. These are usually the high-dollar scholarships. Sometimes they’re full tuition, sometimes full ride (tuition plus room and board).

Look at each school’s website and see what it takes to be top scholar. At most universities now, that’s a 31 on the ACT or a 1400 on the SAT with a 3.8 or higher GPA.

As I tell all the students I work with, it’s easier to make good grades and high test scores than it is to get need-based aid. This is why I encourage students to do their absolutely best academically. Grades and test scores are vital to getting financial aid.

Something to think about here: The more selective the university, the less opportunity there is for merit-based aid, because most students are meeting or exceeding the minimum test scores and GPAs. You might have the opportunity to get a lot more money at a university that is somewhat less competitive and desperately wants your student to attend. I had a student this year who was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. She got into Georgetown, which was charging $70,000. The University of Alabama is giving her a free ride. Her response? Roll Tide!


Next time:

When all else fails, there are always loans.

Jamie Dickenson portrait

Independent Educational Consultant specializing in college admissions and financial aid, motivational speaker, business coach and owner of Jamie Dickenson, LLC., IEC Advisors, and Yoga Power, LLC

Jamie Dickenson is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Hartford Funds has separately contracted with Ms. Dickenson to provide additional insight about college savings issues.

*Source:, 2023

Information is as of the date written and is subject to change.