A college degree doesn’t come cheap. Today, more than 44 millions Americans hang on to a mind-boggling $1.5 trillion of student debt. That’s not much of a shock when you consider how much college costs: 2015-2016 tuition, fees, room, and board for one year at a private university were over $40,000.

More than ever before, students are in need of tuition assistance, and that’s where the Benacquisto Scholarship comes in handy. Created by the state of Florida, the Benacquisto Scholarship is a way to encourage high academic achievers to attend Florida universities.

Keep reading for the latest on this important scholarship program. Below, we’ll explain the history of the scholarship and why it continues to grow today, give you an overview of other scholarships offered by the state of Florida, help you with your application, and a whole lot more.

Why the Benacquisto Scholarship?

Graduates on their toga

Originally called the Florida National Merit Scholar Incentive Program, the grant program was renamed in 2016 after one of its strongest advocates, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. The program’s original goal was to serve hundreds or even thousands of students, help keep talent in the state of Florida, and to prepare high-achieving students for meaningful careers and contributions to their Florida communities.

More Funding, Better Students

The program received additional funding in 2018, in part to help lighten the financial loads of Florida college students, ensuring that their debt, if any, upon graduation, would be manageable.

The 2018 legislation both widened the scope of the Benacquisto Scholarship as well as secured funding the Academic Scholar awards, the Bright Futures Medallion Scholar awards, and the Florida Academic Scholar or Florida Medallion Scholar awards.

Florida Makes Its Move

Hands holding Graduation cap

While universities in other states (such as Alabama and Oklahoma) have been known for being generous with merit scholars, Florida’s widened Benacquisto Scholarship access will now help Florida universities to be more competitive for top talent. Before this new legislation, only Florida students were eligible for the Benacquisto Scholarship. Now, the Scholarship is available to both in-state and out-of-state students.

Since a degree at the University of Florida, for example, costs $43,448 per year for out-of-state students, this is a huge incentive for students considering attending school in the state.

Top Florida Institutions

It makes sense from a financial perspective to attend school in Florida if that’s where you live, but what if you don’t live in Florida? Florida universities are rapidly becoming top picks for students across the country–and it’s not just because of the football. Here are just a few you might want to consider:

University of Florida

The University of Florida is one of several Florida institutions with over 30,000 students in enrollment. It sits on a sprawling 2,000-acre campus with world-class facilities and is ranked 42 in the 2018 Best Colleges and National Universities report published by US News & World Report.

The university offers a strong value with the added plus of excellent grad programs in engineering, business, law, and medicine.

Florida Institute of Technology

Known as Florida Tech, the Florida Institute of Technology original began to train space industry pros at the Kennedy Space Center. Today, it enrolls about three thousand students annually and runs science institutions such as the Institute for Marine Research and the Wind and Hurricane Impact Research Laboratory.

Students may enroll in any number of science, STEM education, liberal arts, or other degrees, though about half enroll in engineering. Florida Tech ranks 151 on the 2018 Best Colleges and National Universities report.

Eckerd College

If a private liberal arts experience is more up your alley, you might appreciate Eckerd College. Set on the water in St. Petersburg, Florida, the beautiful campus is ranked 128 in National Liberal Arts Colleges. It does not offer graduate degrees but does offer a variety of undergrad options.

How Do I Win a Benacquisto Scholarship?

Coins and graduation cap

The good news? There’s no application process for the Benacquisto Scholarship. The bad news? You need to score really well on your PSAT so you can become a National Merit Scholar.

How Can I Become a National Merit Scholar?

The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT (also called the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test or NMSQT). It can only be taken one time each year, as it’s given in October. Most students take the PSAT in both their sophomore and junior years, but only the scores in their junior year count when it comes to the National Merit Scholarship Program.

In addition to a good score (more on that in a moment), you also must take the PSAT when you are in high school (in either 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade). You must be enrolled in traditional or homeschool high school. And you must be a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident (you may also submit plans to gain lawful citizenship).

How Good Do My Scores Have to Be?

Once you’ve qualified, scoring is somewhat complicated and based on indexing performed by state after the nation’s scores are compiled.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) starts with approximately 50,000 of the highest scores and divides these into Commended Students or Semifinalists.

Commended vs. Semifinalist

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Commended Students scored the lowest and did not make the Selection Index Score in their state (if you were class of 2017, for example, and lived in Texas, you would have needed to score better than 220 to be a Semifinalist).

If you’re a Commended Student, you won’t win a National Merit Scholarship, but you will receive a letter of commendation.

About 30% of the 50,000 highest scorers will exceed the cut off scores and qualify as Semifinalists, and approximately 15,000 Semifinalists will become Finalists. During March, April, May, and June, approximately 7,500 Finalists will be chosen and will receive a Merit Scholarship.

Here are the available Merit Scholarships:

  • $2,500 National Merit Scholarships (one-time awards provided by the student’s state)
  • Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships are either one-time or four-year awards and are provided by corporations in varying amounts because the students are children of employees, plan to work at the corporation in the future, or other qualifying featur
  • College-Sponsored Merit Scholarship awards are usually four-year awards provided by the Finalist’s first choice university or college (these amounts vary)

National Merit Scholarships also qualify the student for a variety of other awards–such as the Benacquisto Scholarship!

Further Requirements

It’s not just your test scores–in addition to the information we’ve already shared above, to become a Finalist, you’ll also have to get a recommendation from your high school, maintain high academic performance throughout your high school career, and complete a scholarship application.

Who is Eligible for the Benacquisto Scholarship?

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Both in-state and out-of-student students are eligible for the Benacquisto Scholarship.

In-State Eligibility

In-state students must have earned a high school diploma from a Florida school district (or its equivalency), have completed a home education program, or earned a high school diploma from a high school that isn’t in Florida while living with a parent who is on a public service assignment or military assignment outside of the Florida.

In-state students must also be a 2018 National Merit Scholar and be enrolled at a postsecondary institution in Florida that is eligible, in the academic term immediately following graduation from high school.

Out-of-State Eligibility

Students who are out-of-state must earn a diploma equivalent to what we’ve already explained above, as well as be a 2018 National Merit Scholar, and enrolled in a Florida institution that is eligible for the 2018-2019 academic year.

National Merit

Students may be National Merit Finalists, but to be eligible for the Benacquisto Scholarship, they must have received a $2500 National Merit Scholarship, a Merit Scholarship that is Corporate-sponsored, or a Merit Scholarship that is College-sponsored.

What Do I Win?

Whether students are in-state or out-of-state, students who receive this award receive the full cost of attendance* less whatever they receive in Bright Futures and National Merit award amounts.

Cost of attendance (COA) includes tuition, fees, books, room, board, and even transportation costs to and from the university.

*for an in-state student

How Do I Apply?

Money and diploma on a white surface

There is no application process. However, you must indicate an eligible Florida institution as your first choice. The college or university will check your National Merit Scholarship against their rosters to ensure your plan to attend and will contact you (this will not happen before the May 31st deadline).

Students do not need to apply to renew their scholarship each year. However, students must meet a minimum 3.0 GPA at the end of each year to remain eligible.

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