Wouldn’t it be nice to get your college education for a steal? Fortunately, there are plenty of colleges around the country that make that happen every year for students. While colleges may have a large sticker price up front, that isn’t necessarily what each student will pay.
Thanks to financial aid, which is funded by the federal and state governments as well as through a school’s endowment, students can expect to pay less than the total college costs they see for tuition, room and board and fees. Some colleges and universities across the country go above and beyond when it comes to financial aid
, oftentimes closing the gap between financial aid and what students actually have to pay by just a few hundred dollars.
The Princeton Review
has narrowed down the top 20 most generous schools in the country, based off of student satisfaction in their annual survey.
20. St. Olaf College
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Average aid package: $35,236
19. University of Wisconsin – Madison
Tuition: $9,273 (in-state) $36,333
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Average aid package: $12,751
18. Skidmore College
Average aid package: $44,550
17. Colgate University
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Average aid package: $50,922
16. Lehigh University
Average aid package: $44,210
15. California Institute of Technology
Average aid package: $47,564
14. Stanford University
Average aid package: $50,542
13. Wabash College
Average aid package: $32,979
12. Williams College
Average aid package: $55,621
11. Reed College
Average aid package: $39,913
10. Gettysburg College
Average aid package: $37,831
9. Vassar College
Average aid package: $49,190
8. Thomas Aquinas College
Average aid package: $14,552
7. Grinnell College
Average aid package: $43,783
6. Rice University
Average aid package: $43,174
5. Yale University
Average aid package: $56,602
4. Princeton University
Average aid package: $51,365
3. Washington University in St. Louis
Average aid package: $47,335
2. Vanderbilt University
Average aid package: $49,614
1. Bowdoin College
Average aid package: $48,856
How to Qualify for Financial Aid
Financial aid isn’t just distributed because you apply to colleges. It requires its own application. At times, it can feel as tedious as applying to colleges, but the end result is worth it. Between scholarships, grants, federal work study and student loans, you could receive thousands of dollars in financial aid help in order to pay for college.
The first step to qualifying for financial aid is to complete the FAFSA
– the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is made available on October 1 of every year, and it asks about a family’s financial circumstances. The figures and information provided enable the federal and state governments as well as colleges to make financial aid decisions based on each student.
The FAFSA deadline occurs 20 months after the initial release date, but that is for federal financial aid only. Many states have a deadline that occurs just a few months after the October 1 release date and others recommend that you fill out the form as soon as possible because they distribute financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.
It’s worth mentioning here that your parents’ financial information is required when filling out the FAFSA, regardless of if they plan to help you pay for college (unless you qualify as an independent student on the FAFSA
). For students under the age of 24, the federal government views paying for college as the parent’s responsibility. Essentially, filling out financial aid forms is a group effort, even though paying for college as a family may not be a possibility. But getting your parents on board to help with these applications is vital for students hoping to qualify for financial aid.
Looking at Financial Aid Packages
After a family has completed the FAFSA, they will receive an Expected Family Contribution – or EFC. This figure gives them a rough estimate of how much they’re expected to pay towards their child’s college education. The federal and state governments as well as colleges receive that financial information, like the EFC, and develop a student aid package that helps meet the need of each student.
Financial aid award letters
are typically sent out in late winter and early spring. Students will see a mix of scholarships, grants, work study and student loans. With that, though, financial aid packages can bring a lot of relief for students or a lot of frustration.
Sometimes, financial aid packages may not be enough to help families cover the cost of college. Families can actually negotiate packages with financial aid offices to try and get more help. They can also use financial aid offers at other schools to get the desired package at their first choice college. Now, this may not work every time, but it works some of the time – so it’s worth it.
Another thing to note is the price tag on colleges. You’ll notice that many of the price tags on the above colleges are quite high, but look at the average financial aid package for those schools. Those types of packages make high-sticker-price schools comparable to in-state public colleges – sometimes even less.
Applying to colleges with high price tags in no way obligates you to attending. So put a few of those private colleges on your list, and just see how you fare when the financial aid packages are distributed.
Financial Aid Pays Off – Literally
As you search for colleges
, do some research on their financial aid packages. Don’t write a college off just because it looks too expensive. Most of the time, those colleges are the most generous with financial aid.
Remember that timing is everything when it comes to financial aid. Most of it is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis, meaning the sooner you fill out the necessary applications, the better you’ll fare in the end.
Finally, financial aid is negotiable. After you receive your packages, you can use them to negotiate for a better deal. After all, this is one of the biggest investments in yourself that you can make. Do everything you can to ensure that you’re making smart money decisions now so that your college education can pay off for you in the future.