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Tyng == Merit Scholarship

I am endlessly annoyed by the College’s claim that the Tyng is not a “merit” scholarship, that all the College is doing is meeting someone’s “demonstrated need” but with a nice, pretty bow on top. See here and here for previous discussion. The College continues to claim that there are no merit scholarships at Williams.

Any reader still naive enough to think that the College is telling the truth should take a gander at what Tyng scholars actually receive.

I’m a Tyng Scholar.

One of six to eight in each entering class.

The Stephen H. Tyng scholarship covers all four years of undergrad study, plus three years of further scholarship assistance in grad school– seven years total. Plus stipends for special research or internship opportunities, and a grant to embark on additional studies over one undergrad summer.

It’s all grants. No work-study programs. No loans that have to be repaid. Just grants.

Williams costs $38,000 per year.

For the 2004-2005 school year, the Tyng scholarship grants amount to $37,137.

Total cost of college next year: $863.00.

So, not only does the Tyng support graduate school, but it provides all sorts of stipends, grants and other goodies that are not really necessary for one’s Williams education. If this is not a merit scholarship, then the term has no meaning.


1) Does the College maintain a special endowment for the Tyng and, if so, how big is it? If there are about 28 Tyngs at any one time, then the total annual cost is over $1 million per year. That would suggest an endowment somewhere around $50 million.

2) How generous are the Williams Opportunity Scholarships?

3) Why does the College continue to dissemble on this? Is there some NESCAC or Little Three rule/agreement/policy whereby schools agree not to give merit awards?

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#1 Comment By David R On September 22, 2005 @ 11:26 am

The Tyng isn’t a full-ride for all, or at least for me it wasn’t. My grants covered about a third of the total cost for Williams, or at least they did until my family “no longer qualified for financial aid.”

Merit scholarship? Financial aid? I think we’ve had this discussion before, and I for one don’t care to dwell on it again. In the meantime, I’m going to go collect some cans on the street so that I can make my next tuition payment of a little over 20g’s for the spring semester.

#2 Comment By Richard Dunn On September 22, 2005 @ 11:51 am

I admit it, I was a Tyng, but the description of the program from your last post is pretty skewed.

Yes, there is a separate bequest that funds the Tyng Scholars (hereinafter, Tyngs). Ms. Tyng sold some property in New York City and gave some of the proceeds to Williams College, with very specific rules attached–incidentally, the land is where Saks Fifth Ave currently sits, so imagine if she had just given the land instead, but I digress.

She believed that poor students had to take jobs during the school year to pay of tuition, board, sundries, etc. This left them less able to fully involve themselves on campus.

Additionally, she believed the prospect of large amounts of debt dissuaded poor students from applying to graduate school when they were finished with college.

She set up the bequest as follows: The Tyng fund would pay for all the demonstrated need of a student. The result would be no loans upon completion and no work-study. Additionally, they assist in 3 years of grad school or the equivalent–the Tyng committee has been very receptive to other forms of education.

The policy was later changed so that a student would get loans as part of the financial aid package, but $1000 would be coverted from loan to grant.

Tuition etc: 20,000
Need: 10,000
Grant: 5,000
Loan: 3,000
Work Study: 2,000

Tuition etc: 20,000
Need: 10,000
Grant: 8,000
Loan: 2,000
Work Study: 0

The grant money that the Tyng committee allocates simply replaces, for the most part, the grant that the school would have given anyway.

I believe this implies that the most that the Tyng committee gives in grant above and beyond the financial aid standard is $3000 per year, and it is a replacement for loan and work study. Since so many Tyngs are TA’s by the time they are juniors and seniors, the total impact over 4 years probably amounts to 8,000.

Your issues with the graduate portion I can’t speak to.

Incidentally, Swat has a remarkably similar program, without the graduate support part, that probably works out to the same amount of additional grant/less loan.

#3 Comment By David On September 22, 2005 @ 1:08 pm

I am confused.

You mean that some Tyngs graduate with loans, even as much as $8,000 ($2,000 per year for four years in your example)? I thought that no Tyngs graduated with loan burdens.

You mention that the “description” was skewed. You mean the description given by the Tyng I quoted, a member of the class of 2009? Well, if his understanding is skewed then, obviously, there is a problem. It is the responsibility of the Tyng Administrators to ensure that the Tyngs understand the awards, both before they decide to come to Williams and after.

I also don’t understand what being a TA has to do with anything. Do you mean that, if a Tyng decides to TA (or do any other campus/non-campus job?), that the Tyng grant is reduced to account for that money. In other words, if a Tyng does not work at all, then everything is paid for. But if I Tyng does work then the grant is reduced. If so, at what rate? Dollar for dollar? It would be interesting to determine the marginal tax rate on Tyng earnings.

(I know that typical students are expected to get a work-study job, that this is caculated as part of their total aid package. My understanding is that this is not true for Tyngs. True or false?)

Again, my goal in all these posts is not to belittle Tyngs or the Tyng program. I am a fan of both. But I do want to ensure that everyone is fully informed about the actual deal.

#4 Comment By Richard Dunn On September 22, 2005 @ 1:30 pm

Indeed, I am saying, you are wrong. I am a Tyng with $16,000 in loans outstanding because the Tyng award only removed $1,000 in loans each semester. Thus, instead of $20,000 I have $16,000. This is not a small difference, but it is not nearly as large as you think it is.

Yes, every dollar I earn as a student I must report to the Tyngs (we hand in the same forms that other fin-aid folks do) and so every dollar I earn effectively decreases my grant award 1 for 1. This is how fin-aid would work for anybody else.

I don’t think you are belittling anybody or anything. I tend to agree that the Tyng is merit based because it certainly not handed out randomly. It falls firmly in the “merit-in-need” category. But it is like a NSF for poor kids, Williams administers it and all the committee members are Williams associated, but the money isnt from Williams, per se.

Tyngs are told the workings of the program on several occasions. I know, because I used to explain it when prospective Tyngs visited during preview days. They get copious amounts of paperwork from fin-aid and if they bother to look at their awards from fin-aid every year, the way the program works is pretty self-evident. If there are Tyngs who don’t know how the program works, don’t blame the adminstration, blame the person. Either they are just nodding their heads when we ask if they understand, or they forget, but they are given plenty of opportunity to learn how the system works.

#5 Comment By David On September 22, 2005 @ 1:59 pm

Now I am really confused. Consider two accepted students, both with no money (personal or family). The College agress to meet the demonstrated need for both. One is a Tyng, the other is not.

I had thought that the Tyng would graduate with zero debt. If this is not true, then why does the Tyng ’09 quoted above think that he is not taking out any loans this year? Was he just misinformed? Could he not read the letter that the College sent him?

I had thought that the non-Tyng would graduate with X debt, where X might depend on the mix of grants/loans that the college provided, but where X was set at some maximum level. That is, the College never asks anyone to take out more than some amount ($20,000 is a number that leaps to mind) in loans during all four years at Williams. Is this correct?

Now, you (both David R and Richard) seem to be saying that the Tyng would also be expected to take out X in loans, but that he would have $4,000 of that forgiven. In other words, the only advantage to being a Tyng versus non-Tyng (other than the award itself and some minor doo-dads) is that you graduate with $4,000 less debt than you otherwise would. Is that correct?

I had (mistakenly, I guess) thought that the typical Tyng and the typical non-Tyng (with equal family financial resources) graduated with very different debt loads. If this is not true, then the Tyng is not nearly as cool as I thought it was.

#6 Comment By Richard Dunn On September 22, 2005 @ 2:14 pm

sorry to burst your bubble.

Unless the Tyng committee changed its policies, which I doubt given the return endowments have gotten in the past few years, the Tyng, at most, relieves $4,000 in loan. It also makes up for Work Study, say another $5,000 over the life of an undergrad career assuming the person doesn’t take a job as a TA or a lab research assistant, etc.

Why does you source have such a high grant figure. I hate to do this, but since you asked: they have a very high level of demonstrated need to begin with and Williams created a package that had very little loan from the start. As far as I know, there is some push to increase the loan burden for those with the highest ability to pay and eliminate loans for the poorest families. $1,000 less per year in loan might really eat up all the loans that were expected in the first place.

This is just conjecture, reasonable even if not spot on.

The real Tyng benefit is seen after you graduate and are in grad school, i.e. me.

Remember that going to grad school in something besides medicine, business, and law reduces lifetime income and eats up forgone earnings. Maybe the slight loan reduction naturally fits into the incentives to encourage grad school in academic fields? Just a thought.

#7 Comment By hwc On September 22, 2005 @ 2:53 pm

Incidentally, Swat has a remarkably similar program, without the graduate support part, that probably works out to the same amount of additional grant/less loan.

Correct. Swat actually has a couple of different endowed scholarships. The one you are referring to is the Philip Evans Scholarship. Financial aid for each Evans Scholar is determined by the standard need-based formula, but all work study and loan components are converted to grants. So it could be worth a little or a lot, depending on financial need. In addition, Evans scholars get $1500 to buy a computer, and grants to cover summer research, travel, or internships each year. For example, the one I know about spent the summer doing teaching and AIDS volunteer work with children in Africa.

I do not know for sure, but from looking at the five to eight recepients over each of the last few years, it appears that they are selected primarily from accepted students who further diversity initiatives and social activism. The one I know about, from Boston Latin, is real ball of fire. In the 10th grade, she organized a statehouse protest and boycotted the mandatory statewide MCAS testing (meaning that she could not receive a diploma in Massachusetts). For that and other experiences that give her a unique perspective, she’s a real addition to the campus (and a huge Red Sox fan, to boot). There is no question this program contributes to diversity and, more important, diversity leadership on campus.

Big picture, these scholarships are, in large part, a form of merit aid to better compete for very highly-qualified minority or unusually interesting applicants who might otherwise head to Harvard.

At least at Swarthmore and Williams, they represent an insignificant portion of the financial aid budget. Even as a strong believer in need-based aid, I don’t have any problem with these programs whatsoever.

#8 Comment By Jared On September 23, 2005 @ 2:36 pm

This has all been interesting, but I still wonder about the questions posed in the original post.

1) Are we all in agreement that the Tyng is a “merit scholarship”? It seems beyond clear to me that it is, but I’d like to hear possible reasons it’s not really a merit scholarship, if there are any.

2) If the Tyng is a merit scholarship, why does Williams say that it isn’t?

#9 Comment By hwc On September 23, 2005 @ 4:20 pm


It’s semantics. The question is “need-based” versus “non-need based” scholarship money.

All of the programs we are discussing (the Tyng, the Evans at Swarthmore, etc.) are “need-based” scholarship programs. If you submit the federal aid forms and don’t demonstrate “need”, then you don’t get the money. That is the determining factor. It’s not really a philosophical question. It’s just the definition of “need based” versus “non-need based” financial aid.

Now, once we establish “need”, colleges are free to meet that need (or not) through any combination of grants, loans, and work-study funding. Colleges play games with the ratios between these three elements all the time, often as a way of competing with each other over the same student. It is rampany in URM recruiting right now.

What do you think the Questbridge scholars program is? At its core, it is a commitment to convert loans to grants for a four year period. It is still within the context of need-based aid, but it has the result of reducing the cost to the consumer — in this case, the highly sought after URM.

#10 Comment By David On September 23, 2005 @ 9:55 pm

hwc claims that:

It’s semantics. The question is “need-based” versus “non-need based” scholarship money.

There is a point at which sematics become dissembling. I might claim to be “8 feet tall.” You might point out that I am not. I could claim that it is “semantics,” that by “feet” I mean a unit of measurement equal to 9 inches. The point is that if the target audience of a remark — applicants and their families in the case of he Tyng — understand “merit” to mean X, then it is not a reasonable defense for the College to claim that, “No. We mean Y. But it’s just semantics.”

Moreover, the issue is not “need based” versus “non-need based.” The issue is whether or not the Tyng is a “merit scholarship” — this is the phrasing that the College uses on its web page. Throwing in some need analysis does not make a merit scholarship not a merit scholarship. It is true that some merit scholarships do not require financial aid forms. There is a sense in which these are pure, true, completely merit awards. But, once you actually describe the Tyng to applicants and their families, they would almost always put it in the “merit” box instead of the “non-merit” box.

I realize that, instead, the College would like to divide all awards into two different boxes: need-based (you have to submit financial aid forms) and non-need based (no forms required). There is perhaps an interest framing discussion to have about whether the one best way to divide all possible scholarships is:

merit versus non-merit


need versus non-need.

The College favors the latter. Fine. But then it is dishonest to have a FAQ about “merit scholarships” — thereby implying that one is using the first frame — and then justify a “Not Here” answer by invoking the second.

The again, perhaps I really am 8 feet tall.

#11 Comment By hwc On September 24, 2005 @ 3:02 am


I understand your point. But, we are talking about accepted industry-wide definitions and terminology. It is what it is. The distinction is “need-based” versus “non-need-based” aid.

It’ll will probably all become moot in a few years. In a decade, I doubt that there will more than a dozen schools left that award aid only on a need basis. Once the current glut of students passes throught he system, most colleges will not be able to attract the students they want without price discounting (merit-aid) and will not have to resources to do both. You can discount tuition to several high-stat wealthy kids for each full-tuition need-based scholarship you lop off the enrollment roles.