6. Ask about the number of years you can collect the merit scholarship. Some programs only award four years of scholarships, even though it takes most students five years (or more) to finish college, Stensrud notes.
7. Before choosing among colleges, compare net prices. Subtract grants and scholarships from the total cost of attendance (including tuition, fees, room, board, books, and transportation). Sometimes the college offering the biggest merit scholarship turns out to have the highest net price because its tuition is higher.
[Read 7 Steps to Finding an Affordable College.]
8. Negotiate. If you have received admission letters from two or more universities, and your first choice has a higher net price than a competitor, "Don't be afraid to 'bargain,' " says Don Heller, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the Pennsylvania State University. "It's a not-so-well-kept secret that some institutions may be willing to match a merit grant offered to the student by another school," he adds. But the schools that do consider bargaining typically only match offers from colleges they consider as good or better than their own. Carnegie Mellon University, for example, doesn't generally try to match awards from much lower-ranked schools. Also, students generally only have negotiating leverage before they send in their deposits May 1.
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