It’s often thought that public universities deliver the best education to the widest range of students at the most affordable cost. But, as The Princeton Review’s top 10 best colleges for financial aid shows, private institutions are providing such a wealth of financial aid to the financially strapped that to dismiss applying to them would be a huge mistake by college-bound students.
As CNBC reports, the latest edition of College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021” guide has the average tuition, fees and room and board at in-state public colleges at $22,690. At four-year private schools, it’s $51,690.
However, the schools with the highest sticker prices often have the best average need-based scholarships. Every college listed in The Princeton Review’s top 10 best colleges for financial aid is a private institution. As The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief Robert Franek points out, it is in a student’s best interest to consider private colleges with great financial aid packages.
As quoted by CNBC, Franek states, “Crossing an expensive school off of your list early on is tragically flawed. So many schools are doing the near impossible, which is not making a student or their family mortgage their future to pay for college.”
As part of its 2023 version of ‘The Best 388 Colleges’ publication, the Princeton Review surveyed over 160,000 students on a wide variety of topics, including academics and administration, extracurriculars, quality of life and social scene.
For its financial aid section, results were based on student’s answers to “If you receive financial aid, how satisfied are you with your financial aid package?”
10. College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, Maine
College costs: $54,576
Average need-based scholarship: $36,223
Total out-of-pocket cost: $18,353
Leaning heavily on Liberal Arts and Humanities, College of the Atlantic (COA) has a generous financial aid program that benefits 80% of its student enrollment through merit-based/need-based scholarships. COA also supports some students with a research and travel learning award up to $1,800. According to Niche, the college graduates 66% of its students and its alumni earn a starting average salary of $18,500 and a median salary of $24,600 six years after graduating.
9. Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
College costs: $76,220
Average need-based scholarship: $47,992
Total out-of-pocket cost: $28,228
Founded in 1903, Skidmore champions liberal arts coeducation as the most fitting way to prepare its students “for a life of continuing personal growth and of responsible and significant service to the community,” per its website. It is also committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for all students. Its average need-based scholarship package is around $48,000 for student receiving financial aid (51% of a student enrollment of around 2,500, according to U.S. News).
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8. Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa
College costs: $76,528
Average need-based scholarship: $52,847
Total out-of-pocket cost: $23,681
Ranked the best college in Iowa by Niche, Grinnell is a very small private liberal arts college with a very large tuition cost. Luckily, it also grants a large average total aid package. Once grants and scholarships are factored, a year of school at Grinnell will cost an average of $23,681, down from the hefty sticker price of $76,528. According to University Headquarters, Grinnell has an exceptional retention rate of 94% and an overall graduation rate of 89% (85% graduating in four years). 89% of students receive financial aid while studying at Grinnell.
7. Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula, California
College costs: $36,990
Average need-based scholarship: $13,326
Total out-of-pocket cost: $23,574
Touting its reputation for “never turning away qualified students on the basis of financial need” on its site, the small Catholic school Thomas Aquinas is consistently ranked among the best colleges for financial aid. This very small Catholic school approximately 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles preaches natural and divine wisdom but receives no subsidy from church or state. With the help of its benefactors, the college tries to meet the demonstrated financial need of each student with a program of work-study scholarships, grants and loans.
6. Rice University, Houston, Texas
College costs: $67,695
Average need-based scholarship: $53,221
Total out-of-pocket cost: $14,474
Rice is not only one of the best colleges for financial aid, but it ranks among the elite institutions in America for its research initiatives programs and its dedicated space science program, per College Gazette. In its history, 15 Rice alumni have had careers at NASA as astronauts and administrators.
As CNBC notes, Rice was founded as a tuition-free university in 1912 and that early dedication to helping financially strapped student continues today. Its aid packages are dependent on family income and those students with family incomes below $75,000 receive grants covering tuition, fees and room and board.
5. Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
College costs: $74,220
Average need-based scholarship: $55,010
Total out-of-pocket cost: $19,210
Located in the coastal town of Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin college is a small, welcoming liberal arts college with a high standard of acceptance and education. According to U.S. News, Bowdoin eliminated fraternities in 1997 and, per CNBC, quit the use of loans in its financial packages a decade ago. Approximately half of the Bowdoin student population receives grants, and the average need-based scholarship is $55,010.
Bowdoin received an overall A+ rating from Niche in 2022.
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4. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
College costs: $71,244
Average need-based scholarship: $49,806
Total out-of-pocket cost: $21,438
Focusing on cutting-edge science and engineering work, Caltech students are blessed with over 50 research centers on campus, including five NASA facilities, according to Forbes. Need-based grants provide the majority of the financial aid awarded to Caltech undergrads, which don’t have to be earned or repaid, per CNBC.
Honor is important to all at Caltech, who live by its honor code: “No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.”
3. Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri
College costs: $79,060
Average need-based scholarship: $54,663
Total out-of-pocket cost: $24,397
With more than 480 clubs and student organizations, community is a big draw for prospective students. Self-proclaimed to be “need blind,” Washington University in St. Louis has a high sticker price but is committed to providing need-based students the opportunity to study without financial barriers.
“We meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for all admitted students. Awards range up to the full cost of attendance, including no-loan packages for families with an annual income of $75,000 or less,” per its site.
2. Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts
College costs: $77,300
Average need-based scholarship: $51,521
Total out-of-pocket cost: $25,779
This prestigious private, not-for-profit college boasts seven Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel laureate, 35 Rhodes Scholars, a U.S. president, over 50 Congress members and several CEOs among its alumni, per Forbes.
But it is also a great college for history, athletics and value. According to CNBC, Williams is eliminating student loans this year and is guaranteeing free books and health insurance and offers optional funding to students wishing to study abroad.
1. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
College costs: $68,980
Average need-based scholarship: $52,242
Total out-of-pocket cost: $16,738
Vandy is an internationally recognized research university but also excels in its liberal arts programs thus attracting a wide range of students.
Vanderbilt grads have median earnings of $69,000 six years after graduation, more than double the national average of $33,028, per Niche. By offering “need-blind” admissions, Vanderbilt is committed to reducing student debt and meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need by eliminating loans from financial aid packages for eligible students.
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