States collectively invest over $12 billion a year to support over 4.5 million students through financial aid programs. Most states disburse aid based on students’ financial need, or a measure of their ability to pay for postsecondary education. Some states also use merit criteria, which focuses aid on students matriculating directly from high school who meet GPA and/or test score requirements.

States are often compared based on their commitment to either a need- or merit-based aid policy approach. However, states are not often provided the opportunity to compare how they go about measuring merit or need. This 50-State Comparison provides a look at the specific criteria employed in the top two largest aid programs by state. It includes details about which state programs are linked to measuring need through the federally calculated Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) or purely family income. On the merit side, this 50-State Comparison include details about which state programs use GPA or SAT/ACT scores to determine eligibility. It also includes information on which states require a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or use their own state application process for aid.

Finally, most states do not fund aid programs at sufficient levels to provide an award to all students who meet the need or merit criteria specified in policy. In many cases, states adopt an application deadline process to identify the eligible student pool. This 50-State Comparison includes information about any statewide application deadlines that are in place for each of the programs.

Access information for all states on any of these dimensions by clicking on a question below. A state-level profile of all data points is available by clicking on a specific state.

50-State Comparisons

  1. Is the program need-based, merit-based, a hybrid or based on other criteria?
  2. How is merit or need measured?
    • What is the minimum EFC, GPA, SAT, or ACT result required?
  3. Is the FAFSA required?
  4. Is an additional state application required?
  5. Is a statewide application deadline in place?
  6. All Data Points

Key Takeaways

  • Forty-six of the 100 largest state financial aid programs are disbursed on the basis of financial need only. Eighteen use merit-based criteria. Fourteen are awarded based on a combination of need and merit. Twenty-two use other eligibility criteria, such as military status or intended profession.
  • Of the nine programs that specify an EFC maximum in statute or regulation, the average maximum EFC is $4,400.
  • Of programs with merit requirements, 36 policies specify a minimum GPA, 15 a minimum SAT score and 20 a minimum ACT score.

Related Resource

 PUBLISHED: June 17, 2019




 STATE(S): Nationwide

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