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Top 10 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Check out the colleges and universities with the best financial aid packages.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

July 21, 2021

Looking for the best financial aid deal? These are the colleges for you.
Top 10 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid
As you shop around for colleges, know that the sticker price you see on the website, mailings and brochures isn’t necessarily the price you’ll be paying. In addition to providing financial aid to meet need, colleges and universities try to woo students with generous scholarship and grant packages as well. In the end, those high-price schools can actually be pretty affordable. For instance, the full price for a private college may be upwards of $60,000; however, you could land a scholarship and financial aid package that totals $50,000. That makes the private college just as affordable – if not more so – than a public college or university. With that, it’s important to apply to colleges regardless of their price. Maybe you could start with the top 10 most generous colleges, according to The Princeton Review?

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  1. Vanderbilt University – Nashville, Tennessee • Annual tuition and fees: $57,974 • Average financial aid package: $54,417
  2. Williams College – Williamstown, Massachusetts • Annual tuition and fees: $59,350 • Average financial aid package: $51,358
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  4. Grinnell College – Grinnell, Iowa • Annual tuition and fees: $58,156 • Average financial aid package: $46,465
  5. Washington University in St. Louis – St. Louis, Missouri • Annual tuition and fees: $57,750 • Average financial aid package: $54,138
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  7. Bowdoin College – Brunswick, Maine • Annual tuition and fees: $57,776 • Average financial aid package: $48,856
  8. Reed College – Portland, Oregon • Annual tuition and fees: $62,420 • Average financial aid package: $44,817
  9. Rice University – Houston, Texas • Annual tuition and fees: $52,070 • Average financial aid package: $49,152
  10. Thomas Aquinas College (CA) – Santa Paula, California • Annual tuition and fees: $26,000 • Average financial aid package: $15,433
  11. College of the Atlantic – Bar Harbor, Maine • Annual tuition and fees: $42,993 • Average financial aid package: $38,519
  12. Denison University – Granville, Ohio • Annual tuition and fees: $57,500 • Average financial aid package: $42,350

Applying to Colleges Based on Price

In the admissions world, students are told to apply to three different types of colleges: the Reach School, the Target School, and the Safety School. This theory seeks to match students with schools that are a great academic fit for them. With the Reach School, students can dream big and apply to that school that they feel they have no chance of getting into because it has a very small acceptance rate or it’s a stretch academically. Target Schools have a decent acceptance rate and are a perfect fit academically. A safety school is one with at least an 80% acceptance rate. The same could be applied to the financial aspect of schools. If there is a private school that you’re interested in but it’s way out of your budget, apply anyway. These schools typically have the most generous scholarship and financial aid packages. Need any proof? Just look at the 10 colleges above. With merit scholarships and financial aid, these super expensive colleges can be just as affordable as a public, in-state university. At the same time, you should apply to a few target financial schools too. These are schools that are financially feasible for your family, that would not require a large amount of student loan debt to attend. Finally, community colleges can act as your safety school. In many areas, these institutions are free – or come at a considerably lower cost than a four-year institution. Many students opt to take their general courses at a community college for the first year or two and then switch to a four-year college in order to specialize in a specific major. This saves a lot of money in the long run.

How to Apply for Financial Aid: the FAFSA

Students can qualify for financial aid by one means only: the FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application becomes available on October 1 every year and can be found here. The FAFSA asks for financial information for both the students and their parents in order to assess how much the family can realistically pay for college. The information on the FAFSA is used to determine the Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. Colleges receive the EFC and are then able to create a tailored financial aid package to meet the needs of each student. Some financial aid packages contain grants and work study options only. Other packages may be a mix of work study and student loans. Some students do qualify as independent students, meaning parental information is not required in order to complete the FAFSA. To see if you qualify as an independent student, check here, or call your financial aid office.

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