Financial Aid

Top 10 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Looking for the best financial aid deal? These are the colleges for you.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

February 14, 2024

Top 10 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid
Check out the colleges and universities with best financial aid packages.
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?

Colleges with Best Financial Aid

  1. Washington University in St. Louis – St. Louis, Missouri • Annual tuition and fees: $64,500 • Average financial aid package: $58,197
  2. Thomas Aquinas College – Santa Paula, California • Annual tuition and fees: $30,200 • Average financial aid package: $15,283
  3. Skidmore College – Saratoga Springs, New York • Annual tuition and fees: $60,030 • Average financial aid package: $50,000
  4. College of the Atlantic – Hamilton, New York • Annual tuition and fees: $45,630 • Average financial aid package: $35,687
  5. Wabash College – Crawfordsville, Indiana • Annual tuition and fees: $49,800 • Average financial aid package: $38,991
  6. Emory University – Atlanta, Georgia • Annual tuition and fees: $59,920 • Average financial aid package: $55,472
  7. St. Olaf College – Northfield, Minnesota • Annual tuition and fees: $56,970 • Average financial aid package: $44,362
  8. Reed College – Portland, Oregon • Annual tuition and fees: $66,710 • Average financial aid package: $46,643
  9. Williams College – Williamstown, Massachusetts • Annual tuition and fees: $64,540 • Average financial aid package: $66,083
  10. Gettysburg College – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania • Annual tuition and fees: $64,230 • Average financial aid package: $48,852

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 on the Federal Student Aid site. 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 Student Aid Index, or SAI. Colleges receive the SAI and are then able to create a tailored financial aid package to meet the needs of each student. In addition to the FAFSA, colleges may also require you to fill out a supplemental financial aid form. This form may ask about circumstances that the FAFSA doesn’t cover, and that’s why it’s so important. Financial aid officers may choose to provide more aid based on information from the supplemental forms. If you feel that you do not have enough financial aid to cover the cost of college, you can always ask your college for a professional judgment, or financial aid appeal.

Types of Financial Aid

Some financial aid packages contain grants and work study options only. Other packages may be a mix of work study and student loans. • Grants -- Financial aid that does not have to be paid back, typically based on financial need. • Work Study -- Federally sponsored Work-Study (FWS) Program provides undergraduate and graduate students with school-year part-time employment. The Federal Government pays some of the student's salary, which helps departments and businesses pay for and ultimately hire students. Eligibility is based on financial need. • Loans – Subsidized or unsubsidized loans that enable students to borrow money to pay for their education upfront. These must be paid back through a monthly payment plan after graduation. Financial aid can be combined with any merit or outside scholarships that you receive.

Financial Aid for Independent Students

Some students do qualify as independent students, meaning parental information is not required in order to complete the FAFSA. Because they are truly independent, they may be able to qualify for more financial aid. You will not be considered an independent student for financial aid purposes if your parents refuse to help you with college costs. Rather, one of the following must apply to you: • Be 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year; • Be an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or was a ward of the court when 13 years or older; • Be a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty for other than training purposes; • Be a graduate or professional student; • Be a married individual; • Have legal dependents other than a spouse; • Be an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship; • Be a homeless youth; • Be a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.

Search for Scholarships to Pay for School

Don’t expect a financial aid package to cover your entire tuition bill. You’ll need a combination of scholarships and financial aid if you hope to graduate from college with little to no student loan debt. With that, make sure you’re updating your Fastweb profile frequently with your GPA, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs or volunteer experiences. Updating your profile ensures that we’re finding the scholarships you qualify for in our database. You should also make applying for scholarships a regular habit by establishing a realistic goal for yourself. For instance, you could commit to applying to two scholarships per week; one scholarship that is quick and easy and another that takes a little more work. We like to say that the more scholarships you apply to, the better your chances of winning. Treat your scholarship search like a part-time job and devote a few hours each week to applications, essays, and updating your Fastweb profile.

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