gap year merit aid

“How Does a Gap Year Potentially Affect Merit Aid?”

News headlines for the past year have been focused on the effect the pandemic has had on the college admission process for current seniors, with canceled standardized tests and virtual classrooms. But quarantine has also brought uncertainty of joining campus at all this coming fall. This uncertainty, along with widespread frustration with the unaltered tuition prices when faced with a year of online-only classes has sent many students searching for alternative options.

This year, more students than ever before are looking into the idea of a gap year. In fact, the Gap Year Association website has noted increased traffic and interest on their website since the pandemic began. Traditionally, gap years have been utilized as a time for students to gain world experience before entering their college path. This has been a time set aside for students hoping to pursue an enriching life experience before joining the professional world, like a service volunteering trip abroad or an industry internship opportunity.

Gap years are not time for students to defer a year of college to do nothing.

A common question is, “How are these experiences viewed by colleges?” Gap years can be viewed favorably by colleges, as long as students have a solid reason for the gap year, such as an internship or fellowship, and stick to it. Admissions counselors often discourage gap years due to the number of applicants they see get derailed in their “year off,” which ultimately harms their admissions chances. Taking a year to travel so much they begin college already buried in debt can ruin the college experience before it begins.

Viewing your potential gap year from the college perspective is essential before proceeding forward with making any plans, because the wrong move could cost thousands of dollars in the end.

Make a Plan

Every college has a different policy on how they view gap years, especially in regards to financial aid. Do the research well in advance to be fully educated on how an application featuring a gap year will be viewed, before committing to a plan. Many colleges (typically rolling admissions schools) don’t allow a gap year at all, meaning that applicants pursuing a gap year are considered in the incoming freshman applicant pool. These schools do not allow a “deferment” of admission, where an admission offer is accepted and a seat is held for that student until after their gap year. Most schools that allow admission deferment require a substantiation reason behind the deferral through a review process. All in all, students should not take gap years lightly, and there should be a plan in place before seeking a deferral. Never take a gap year with the intention to get it approved later or make a plan later. Students should contact every college on their list to see how gap years are viewed by each college.

Quarantine brought a drastic change to the image of the traditional gap year in its wake, in addition to upending the traditional undergraduate admissions process. Many borders are now closed to US citizens, eliminating the idea of a volunteer service trip abroad or backpacking trip across Europe. If time spent abroad is still the plan, this is where careful research on the options still available is the best plan of action to proceed accordingly.

Add the Financials

The first move any student should make when considering a gap year is to contact the schools to see how they will be considered financially. This is not a step to be skipped and handled later, by any means.
A little known fact in the admissions world is that students can handicap themselves financially during a gap year by making the wrong moves. The timing alone, applying as a gap year student, may affect their access to merit aid, depending on the policies of the college. First and foremost, there are deadlines. Presumably, gap year students have left the guidance of their school counselor and parental homes. Students applying to colleges that consider them in the same applicant pool of incoming freshmen rather than an approved deferral are on their own to remember priority merit aid deadlines.
Most importantly, is how students spend their time. A gap year may seem like the perfect opportunity to take some general education credits. Pursuing classes during a gap year is where the greatest financial mistake lies.

It’s no secret that merit aid for incoming freshmen vastly outweigh the options for transfer students. Depending on the outlook colleges on the list maintain on who qualifies as a transfer student, students are at risk of being considered a transfer student by pursuing classes during a gap year and potentially missing out on tens of thousands of dollars. Students should take this information to heart and tread carefully, even when considering language courses at accredited institutions while traveling abroad.

The first step for students considering a gap year should be contacting the colleges on their list in advance, and making sure they are fully educated on how they will be viewed as an applicant and how it may affect them financially with merit aid

Michaela Schieffer
College Counselor and Scholarship Coach
Michaela is a college counselor and scholarship coach at Moon Prep. She helps students craft noteworthy applications and pursue impressive extracurricular activities to catch the eye of top universities and competitive BS/MD programs. She not only helps students attend their top-choice university, but she helps them pay for it by guiding them through the scholarship process.

affordability merit aid

How Will You Pay for College? Financial Aid Considerations

Whether you are a senior currently submitting applications, a junior building your college list, or a sophomore thinking about college, determining how you will pay for college is an important step in the college application process.

First thing first, why is college so expensive? While many factors affect college costs, the biggest mistake that I see families make is they fail to consider the total cost of attendance. It is one thing to look at tuition prices, but the cost of housing in NYC will be significantly more than if you attend a college in Iowa.

Next, educate yourself about the financial aid process. Once you understand how financial aid works, you can learn how you may influence your financial aid award. If you are a current senior, you should be reaching out to the financial aid offices of the schools you are applying to. Here are the top 12 questions you need to ask.

Turning your attention to merit scholarships (money coming directly from a college or university) is one way to reduce college costs. Still, you need to be aware of merit scholarship opportunities. To receive merit scholarships from most colleges or universities, you need to be close to or at the top of their applicant profile. Most of the students I work with who are looking for merit money are admitted to every school they apply to. While most students create a college list with reach, match, and likely (“safety”) schools in terms of admission, students looking for money create a list that is reach, match, and likely for merit money. Using merit scholarship search engine sites, such as MeritMore, is a great way to learn about schools that are generous with merit aid. You can conduct your merit scholarship search by entering your standardized testing scores, GPA, and location. You can also search for colleges by name.

Finally, many families focus on landing outside scholarships. Searching for outside scholarships can take up a significant amount of time, so using the upcoming holiday breaks to identify (or complete scholarship applications, if you are a senior) is a great way to make sure you are doing everything you can to cut your college costs. To learn how to get started with your outside scholarship search, read College Mindset’s recent post, 6 Steps to Find Scholarships.

While considering how you will pay for college may seem like an additional hoop to jump through, it is significant. Make sure you openly communicate with everyone involved in your college process, so you are all on the same page regarding cost, budget, and educational goals. Taking the time to learn more about covering the cost of college now will only benefit you when it is time to make your final decision.

Katherine Price is the founder of College Mindset. She earned her M.A. in Higher Education Administration from Boston College and her B.A. from the University of San Diego. She is also a Certified Educational Planner (CEP).

Activities tools

Common App Activities Worksheet: Track Character Counts and Spellcheck

Completing the activities section of the Common App can be frustrating. We created this handy spreadsheet to track the character count and enable us to run a spellcheck. Its free. Click on the link, and you will be prompted to ‘make a copy” which gives you your own personal version.

Also, we loved this Activities section guidance from The College Essay Guy

Affordability essays

Procrastinators, Get Your Personal Essay on Track

I don’t know how many of you are in the same boat. This Friday, we realized that our son was less than 2 weeks away from his November 1st deadlines. The status of his Personal Essay, supposed to be completed this summer, was ‘getting there.’ Let’s not even talk about supplementals. We’ve discussed this essay ad nauseam. Before things got really ugly, we did these three things this weekend:


  • Review some of The College Essay Guys best essays and why they work. Ethan is great at this stuff.
  • Send a draft to Prompt, an essay editing service. We’ve used this service before. We are using it now. The writers are very professional, the feedback is focused and detailed, the turnaround time is 48 hours, and you only pay for what you use. Use this link for 20% off their standard fees. (I am not compensated by Prompt.)
  • Ask a trusted friend to take a look and offer guidance for a different perspective on Personal Essay

We got a premium Grammarly subscription to take us through admissions. It works right in the Common App text entry fields, which saves my son a lot of headache–typos and writing suggestions are built right in.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

demonstrated interest

How Are Colleges Evaluating Demonstrated Interest in 2020?

Demonstrated interest shows how eager you are to attend a college. Demonstrated interest allows colleges to see which students are genuinely interested in their school.

Why Demonstrated Interest?
A 2017 report from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling found that around 40 percent of colleges surveyed said that demonstrated interest had some level of importance on their decisions. Furthermore, with the use of the Common Application, it is becoming increasingly easy for students to apply to multiple schools. Tracking demonstrated interest allows colleges to differentiate between two almost identical applicants.

How You Can Demonstrate Interest
Test score, GPA, and extracurriculars are all things you can explicitly put in your application, however, demonstrated interest is not. Instead, you have to show you are interested in a college during the application process. Let’s look at some of the ways you can demonstrate interest.

Online event or webinar
As many on-campus tours are canceled due to COVID-19, online events or webinars are an easy and safe way to demonstrate interest from your own home. If a college you are interested in offers a webinar or any other online event be sure to sign up. Check out these virtual fairs conducted by NACAC.

Added to admissions mailing lists
Most college websites have online forms that you can fill our to get added to their mailing list. Once you began to receive these emails, be sure to actually open them! Many colleges use software that tracks if you open an email, read it, or click any links whiten the email. And take some time to click on those admissions emails.

Campus visits
Currently, most college tours have been put on hold due to COVID-19, however, once these tours begin to continue again they are a great way to demonstrate interest! Campus tours give you a first-hand look at what a campus is like, interact with current students, and meet with an admissions representative. If you managed to do a walk through on your own, reach out to the admissions office and let them know you stopped by to get a sense of the campus. MeritMore has linked to hundreds of virtual tours and videos that you can use to get a good feel.

Local open house or school visit
Local college events are a great way to meet with college admissions representatives face-to-face without having to make travel arrangements. Your high school counseling office likely has information about what colleges are visiting your highschool. These college fairs are also held at a local library or community center, be sure to keep track of dates and attend these events

How to Track Your Demonstrated Interest
Keeping track of which schools you have shown demonstrated interest can be difficult. With MeritMore you can easily keep track of which schools you have shown demonstrated interest. Using our application task manager you can get access to a checklist for each college to see what demonstrate interest you have shown and where.

manage all your tasks, including demonstrate interest

Below we listed some key colleges which do ant don’t consider demonstrated interest. While this list does not include all colleges it is a great starting point when considering where certain colleges stand on demonstrated interest.

Demonstrated interest is important
Baylor University
Chapman University (somewhat)
Furman University
Franklin and Marshall College
Westmont college
American University
Bates College
Dickinson College
Wellesley College (somewhat)
Wake forest university (somewhat)
Trinity College (somewhat)
Rice University (somewhat)
Skidmore College
Smith College

Demonstrated interest is not important
University of Southern California
Clairmont Mckenna
Carnegie Mellon
Northwestern University
Miami University
University of Georgia
Yale University
Princeton University

affordability merit aid

5 Ways to Get More Merit Aid in college

Merit aid is the best way for families of all income levels to make college more affordable. College’s give away more than $8 Billion in merit aid scholarships, making it the largest non-loan on non-need only pool of money. Additionally, merit aid grants are typically renewable, meaning a student can receive them for all 4 years.

Be a Competitive Candidate
When it comes to merit aid, colleges make their decisions based entirely on a student’s academic profile. Due to the high volume of applications, colleges are simply unable to evaluate students holistically. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to target schools where your GPA and SAT/ACT scores fall in the top 25% so you are in the best possible position to receive merit aid. Enter your SAT/ACT and GPA scores on MeritMore and, we’ll do the hard work for you by matching your profile with schools that are “financially fit” for you.

Fill out the FAFSA
Many students decide to opt-out of filling out the FAFSA because they believe their parents earn too much to qualify them for any financial aid. This is a big mistake! You can still qualify for federal loans even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid. When it comes to merit aid or any additional aid a college offers, most won’t consider you if you have not filled the FAFSA out. Filling out FAFSA is the first step to securing aid and grants for students, but filing it out early is equally important. It’s best to file as soon as the application opens on October 1st. The US Department of Education says that filing out the FAFSA early can help secure you more money since many colleges award aid on a first come first serve basis.

Search Out Merit Aid Scholarships
Each college you apply to will have a different incoming freshman academic profile so you don’t need to be a straight-A student or have a perfect SAT/ACT score to get merit aid. Merit aid is typically awarded to students in the top quartile of a college’s incoming freshman class, but to see if you are in the top quartile requires time and patience. Rather than finding and combing through the common data of each college you are interested in, use MeritMore to find all the colleges that would most likely offer you merit aid. Once you have your list of strong-merit aid colleges, you can compare offer data and apply to the colleges that will likely offer you the most merit aid. MeritMore makes it easy to find colleges that are likely to give you merit aid. Anyone can search for aid in 30 seconds.

Identify Renewal Terms
Most merit aid awards are renewable, however there may be stipulations that you should be aware of. For example, your school may require you to maintain a certain GPA in order to qualify for merit aid again the next year. Fully understand the renewal terms of your merit aid award so that you can fulfill the renewal requirements.

Your merit aid award amount can be negotiable. There are colleges that make it clear that their aid decision is final, but if that’s not the case, it doesn’t hurt to negotiate. If the school considers you an asset and wants to convince you to enroll, they may be willing to work with you on your aid offer. If there have been any positive changes, such as improved grades or test scores, since you applied to the school, bring this new information forward to help you renegotiate your merit aid award. Colleges typically match the amount of their merit aid offer with offers from a similarly ranked school has given you, so it’s crucial that you indicate all the merit aid offers you have received during the appeal process.

gap year Internships

Tech Entrepreneur: Create Your Own Valuable Summer or Gap Year Experience

How to Make Your Own Summer Internship with a Marketable Skillset

It’s summertime, and like many students, your seasonal internship may have fallen through or you may need to plan for a productive gap year. However, there’s still a way for you to spend your summer months gaining useful, real-world experience and that’s by acquiring digital skills.

These are highly-valued skillsets that every type of business and organization needs—not just tech companies. Whether it’s an indie bookstore or a non-profit, they all could use someone with digital skills.

This summer, there is a unique opportunity to gain a real, valuable skill and put it for a productive gap year. If you stay committed, this experience can translate into an authentic extracurricular on your college applications or more paid work down the line.

Learn a highly-valuable skill that isn’t overly complicated
Since you’re trying to train yourself and earn useful experience in one summer, you want to find a skill to learn that’s both marketable and straight-forward.

This will make it easier to stay committed to the goal of adding a new and valuable skill to your tool belt, as a trade that’s too difficult or low in demand won’t give you the prime experience you’re looking for.

If you have trouble picking a skill to learn, think about what interests and basic skills you already have. Picking a skill you’re excited about will help you push through the challenging parts of mastering it and increases the chance you’ll want to use that skill again in the future.

There’s no shortage of skills you can learn outside of a traditional classroom setting. Here are some examples:

  • Doing market research
  • Writing blog posts that are search engine optimized
  • Running a social media account
  • Doing a search engine optimization audit
  • Finding actionable insights from their advertising or traffic reports
  • Building scrapers or other small applications
  • Running performance audits
  • Designing ads or other marketing materials
  • Managing a Wix or WordPress site

You’ll need to do more than reading a few articles or watching a short tutorial in order to really learn something and get an employer to say “yes” to you.

It’s important to dedicate real time to studying your new skill. To do this, set aside several hours each day where you’ll focus on gaining a more thorough understanding.

If you’re ready for the commitment, you can learn a marketable skill with free or low-cost sites that offer short courses. You can also forego a class structure entirely and find relevant tutorials on sites like YouTube, provided you’re committed to putting in the time and effort it takes to set your own pace.

Some of these sites include:

Google Digital Garage

Find opportunities to use your skills
Small, local businesses and nonprofit organizations are in particular need of these skills given the current situation.

Before you start sending out mass-emails, try tapping into your network first. Reach out to any friends or family who have small local or online businesses, organizations, or personal websites. Many people have their own Etsy shop or a personal blog that could require some attention.

You can also think about places and people you have a personal connection with: a tutoring service that helped you in the past, your favorite bakery, or even one of your teachers.

Any of these could be interested in your skill:

  • Restaurants
  • Local home service providers, like lawn care, plumbing, carpentry, and hardware stores
  • Bookstores
  • Educational services, like music instructors and tutors
  • Yoga or dance studios
  • Law firms or tax preparation businesses
  • Nail salons, hair salons, or massage studios
  • Babysitting services
  • Your local Humane Society

Once you’ve found a few places, do your research. Look at their website and social media sites to get a feel for what they’re doing.Try to imagine how your skill can help them.

Perfect your pitch
Now that you’ve started learning a new, valuable skill, you’ll want to learn how to create a concise pitch about yourself and what you have to offer.

Self-promotion can be tricky, especially at first, but there are a few steps that can simplify the process and ensure you get responses.

  • Write a unique letter for each company you contact that opens with an interesting hook and ends with a compelling call to action.
  • Make sure your pitch answers the questions: who are you, what can you do for them, and why should they add you to the team?
  • Let them know what knowledge or skills you have, including any courses you’ve taken.

A good example of a well-crafted pitch looks like this:

Do you need a summer social strategy but you’re short on time and money?

I’m Ann, a Junior at All-American High School, and I’d love to help. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks taking a course on social media marketing and researching independently. I also have accounts on most social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.

I can write social media posts for your business accounts, create a content calendar, and perform hashtag or keyword research. Since I’m just starting, I’d like to offer my services for free as an unpaid intern.

I have just a few tips I’d love to share with you. I’m looking forward to speaking with you further.

Commit to doing your best
When you’ve landed an internship, it’s time to put in the work. An employer is taking a chance on you based on the skillset you’ve marketed; it’s important to stay focused on the goals you’ve set with the organization and prove the benefit of your experience.

You can do this in a few ways:

  • Communicating clear expectations with your employer about what you can do and how much time you can commit
  • Following through on all of your deadlines and deliverables in a professional manner, or giving your employer a heads-up if something is harder or taking longer than you expected
  • Continuing to keep yourself educated: you may have gotten the internship, but your skills are still new and there’s a lot left for you to learn
  • Creating a transition plan for the company once your internship is over so that the work you’ve put in place continues
  • Showing your commitment to the work you’re doing will reflect well on you and could lead to more opportunities with the organization in the future.

You can gain valuable experience by using this time to learn a new, marketable skill and craft your own real-world experience with a free summer internship for a productive gap year.

The internet’s full of free or low-cost sites where you can quickly learn a highly-valued skill like content marketing or managing a WordPress site. Sending out a self-promotion letter and finding businesses who need your services is simple enough, and can help you make the most of your summer in an experience that can benefit you in the future.

You have everything to win from creating your internship and productive gap year: a highly-valuable skill, authentic work experience, and connections for networking. Really, what do you have to lose?

Paul is a software engineer and entrepreneur in New York City. His first programming project was in high school, when he built a simple forum and blogging platform from scratch. He has co-founded two startups and worked as a software engineer with several other tech companies. He just launched BoundryCare.


Welcome to MeritMore

We spent months trying to find solutions to help us make better financial choices around the college admissions process. Along the way, we met other parents trying to do the same thing. We are excited to bring you a set of tools that enabled us to save literally thousands of dollars and endless hours of frustration and headache. We hope these tools are as helpful to applicants and their families as they were to use. Please let us know how the process is going and how we might help!


The MeritMore Team