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How Higher SAT/ACT Scores Can Win You a College Scholarship

Let’s not mince words: college is expensive! The latest data for the 2022-2023 school year show the average annual cost of tuition + fees and school-related expenses:

  • $27,940 for in-state students at public four-year colleges 
  • $44,240 for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges 
  • $57,570 for students at private four-year colleges 

These are daunting figures to most of us, but the truth is that only a small percentage of students need to pay the full sticker price shown. The key to offsetting the cost of college is finding financial aid and scholarships

Broadly speaking, there are two types of financial aid: need-based and merit-based. Need-based aid generally comes in the form of government-subsidized grants, loans, and work-study programs, the amounts of which are determined from the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. (Check out our article from October, which detailed some of the latest changes to FAFSA.) 

Merit-based aid is offered by colleges to recruit students and includes scholarships awarded to students for things like demonstrating interest or aptitude in a specific field of study, an identity with a specific group, demographic, or organization, as well as scholarships for talents in areas like athletics and music. Some colleges require an additional application for scholarships like these, but there are a number of colleges that automatically award scholarship dollars to students based on a combination of grades and standardized test scores.

There are potentially thousands of dollars more available to those with the right scores who happen to look in the right places. And we’re not just talking about students with straight-As and double 800s!

At the University of Alabama, for example, out-of-state students with a 29 on the ACT (1330-1350 on the SAT) and a GPA of 3.5+ are eligible for $15,000 per through the Foundation in Excellence Scholarship. Students with ACT scores of 30+ are eligible for even larger yearly amounts of $24,000 to $28,000. Whether or not you intend to apply to the University of Alabama, this example is illustrative of the savings that are available if students are aware of merit opportunities and have the scores and grades required.

Are These Scores and Scholarships Really in Reach?

We can say from 20+ years of experience that the answer is a resounding yes.

In 2022, Applerouth students earned over $27 million in scholarship awards. Our students who tutor for at least 20 hours and complete their homework along with the appropriate number of practice tests see average score increases of 5 points on the ACT and 130 points on the SAT. The students we tutor grow in confidence and knowledge and it is especially exciting to see the effort they put into preparing for the tests pay off – literally. 


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Although scholarship dollars tend to be directly proportional to numbers like your GPA and test scores, when it comes to merit-based awards, you don’t necessarily need to be at the top of your class or a perfect tester to win big. For example, out of state scholarships at the University of Tennessee start at a 3.6 GPA and 28 on the ACT – and while you have to apply by December 15, you have until July 1 to submit new test scores to improve your scholarship award. Familiarize yourself with the specific merit-aid policies at your prospective schools (and consider expanding your list to include schools that offer merit aid) as a strategy to reduce the overall cost of college. 

For more information, talk with your school counselor, the admissions officers at your favorite colleges, and if you seek additional support, use reputable sources like IECA and HECA member consultants, and websites like scholarships360.org


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 866-789-PREP (7737) or info@applerouth.com.