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Merit-based awards attract top students

The desire to attract top students - those most likely to succeed at Purdue - is the aim of the University's newest scholarship program.

The Purdue University Academic Success Awards Program will begin granting scholarships for the 1999-2000 school year.

The Academic Success Awards join a long line of Purdue merit-based awards: school merit awards, the Steven C. Beering Scholarships, National Merit Scholarships and Valedictorian Scholarships.

Merit-based scholarships, administrators say, are a necessary step to compete for the best and brightest students.

"In order to remain competitive, we must be able to offer these top students some significant merit-based scholarship money," says Douglas Christiansen, director of the Office of Admissions.

"Over the past several years, we have continued to build our merit portfolio, and to build packages that can draw top academic students to Purdue University," he says.

For the past two decades, individual schools have offered merit-based scholarships to their top students. More than 700 students received school awards for 1998-99. Projections are for that number to increase over the next five years.

The amount of the awards varies by school, as does the criteria for eligibility for the scholarships.

The School of Science, for example, awards one full-ride scholarship per year, which is funded by alumni who work for Eli Lilly and Co. The school and its departments also offer about 30 other smaller awards.

Competition is stiff, says Dennis Sorge, the school's director of academic services.

"It's sometimes hard for students to understand that they are valedictorian of their class and score nearly 1,600 on their SAT and still don't receive a merit-based award from the school," he says. "Last year, we had 140 applicants to the School of Science who had the necessary academic qualifications for the top awards."

Adding more scholarships is key to attracting top students.

"It is very difficult to get some of those top students without having the top dollars to offer them, especially when they are getting better scholarships from other schools," Sorge says.

In 1986, Purdue implemented the Presidential Honors Scholarships, now called the Steven C. Beering Scholarship Program. The award provides full tuition, housing, books, stipend and travel funds for the recipient. The scholarship requires SAT or ACT scores in the 99th percentile and a class rank in the top 5 percent. It is renewable for the student's entire undergraduate career and carries an option for graduate school at Purdue or medical school at Indiana University. Of the more than 100 students who met the criteria in 1998, eight were awarded Beering scholarships.

The National Merit Scholars Awards Program was fully implemented in 1995. Awards range from $750 to $2,000 based on need. Thirty-four students received the first awards in 1995. This year, 59 students were selected for the scholarship.

Also added in 1995 was the Valedictorian Scholarship Program - a one-time $1,000 award for students who were valedictorian of their senior class. The year before the award was introduced, 119 valedictorians chose to attend Purdue. For 1998, 182 valedictorian scholarships were awarded.

The Academic Success Awards Program continues the drive to add merit-based scholarships at Purdue, Christiansen says.

It's very welcome, Sorge says. "It certainly can help the schools attract top students to be able to point to this award that is available, and perhaps to build on the award with scholarships of our own."

Christiansen projects that 250 scholarships will be awarded in each of the first four years of the program.

The award - $1,000 for Indiana residents and $3,000 for nonresidents for the freshman year - requires an SAT score of 1,360 and a ranking in the top five percent of the student's class. The scholarship is renewable - at $500 per year for in-state students, $1,000 for nonresidents - with a 3.5 grade-point average.

With the new Academic Success Awards, Purdue will be offering merit-based scholarships to more than 1,200 freshmen beginning with the fall semester of 1999 - about 17 percent of the freshman class.

Funding for the range of merit-based scholarships comes from unrestricted gifts and grants, departmental gift funds, endowment earnings, interest earnings, and logo royalties. The awards are administered by the Division of Financial Aid.

The scholarships are not an expense, Christiansen says, but an investment for Purdue's future.

"We need these scholarships to help ensure the quality of the student body and the long-term success of this University," he says.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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