Chances are, you’ve already heard about the skyrocketing costs of going to college. Just thirty years ago, the estimated costs of attending a top college hovered around $10,000 a year. Now, the price tag is closer to $60,000. Even if you account for inflation, today’s families are expected to pay nearly triple what they did three decades earlier. It’s no wonder that when most students graduate from college, they’re already $35,000 in debt. What you may not realize is that your ACT score can dramatically reduce college costs and even ensure that you graduate debt-free.

To begin, let’s classify the types of colleges and universities based on the likelihood of you getting a merit-based scholarship. Of course, for some schools, financial aid is only based on need (e.g. Harvard, Princeton, Yale…). The toughest schools to get merit aid from are the “public Ivies” (e.g. UNC, UVA, Michigan, UCLA, and Cal at Berkeley) and the prestigious private universities (e.g. Northwestern, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt…). The easiest schools for most students to get aid from are the state funded public universities. For most public universities (in-state or out-of-state) scholarships begin at a composite score of 27.

From 27 to 36 there is generally an increasing gradient of scholarship money for the student. Here is what the University of Alabama’s scholarship package looks like for in-state and out-of-state students.

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The ACT, however, isn’t the only component that is taken into consideration for these scholarships. Alabama and most schools require GPA of at least 3.5. Of course, not every college or university follows this same pattern for giving out scholarships. For example, Arizona State University offers a different kind of scholarship package.


Here is a look at the scholarship package from Miami University of Ohio:


It is important to note that while some schools will “superscore” an applicant’s ACT scores during the admission process they often will not when looking at scores for scholarship consideration. For more information on “superscoring” and the ACT, click here.

My advice to you would be to start early and find a couple of schools that you may be interested in and see what kind of specific scholarship packages they give to students. Once you get more information you can begin to formulate an ideal academic profile for those schools and work hard in high school to mirror that profile. If you have any questions feel free to comment.