Admissions

Report: These Colleges Offer the Best Financial Aid Packages

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The biggest consideration for most students and their families regarding higher education is cost. Of course, even though the best match is also very important, cost has a direct bearing on what usually results in the dark side of going to college: student loan debt. And while there's no absolute black-and-white way to judge a college's ability to provide financial aid, there are discernible trends.


In that light, then, let's take a look at 50 U.S. Colleges With the Most Generous Financial Aid Packages. This information comes from StudentLoanHero.com, and is prefaced with the following disclaimer:

"This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution."

Let's take a look at how SLH approaches their findings by reviewing their introductory text:

When it comes to choosing an affordable college, sticker price can be deceiving. The cost of attending a college is just one factor that impacts what a student must pay or borrow to enroll. The financial aid package a college offers students to help cover educational expenses is just as important.

Our new study surveyed student aid awarded at 1,244 U.S. colleges to find the schools that offer the most financial assistance to students in need. We found that the average financial aid package offered to students with a financial need at U.S. colleges is an impressive $20,494.

Some colleges provide far more assistance than that, thanks mostly to institutional aid such as scholarships and grants. Here, we highlight the 50 top colleges in the U.S. that provide the most financial aid to their students who need help.

This is very helpful information for those beginning their college process and looking for candidate colleges that are both affordable and well matched. Of course, there are other considerations, such as weather, proximity to large metropolitan areas, overall distance from home (and boyfriends and girlfriends), and the always reliable "gut feel."

Check These Key Findings

Here, though, we're focusing on the size of aid in relation to the cost of the school, so let's look at some key findings:

- The average value of financial aid packages was $47,895 among the top 50 schools. That's more than 2.3 times the average among all 1,244 schools surveyed.

- The gap between aid packages charts with higher costs. The average annual tuition and fees across all 1,244 colleges was $24,042. Among the top 50 schools, the average was $49,702.

- All 50 of these top schools are private colleges or universities. Additionally, all Ivy League schools made the list, with Columbia University leading the pack by offering aid packages averaging $55,521.

- Of the top 50 colleges with the largest financial aid packages, 46 reported meeting the full demonstrated financial need for every qualifying student.

As a statement about their methodology, SLH notes:

For this study, we used data from Peterson's to identify U.S. colleges offering the largest financial aid packages to students in need.

These financial aid packages include all forms of financial assistance awarded to students. The numbers reflect federal, college-provided, and private student aid. They also include gift aid, such as grants and scholarships, as well as federal and private student loans.

We also include the following stats for each school:

- Number of undergraduates receiving need-based gift aid, such as grants or scholarships

- The percentage of students whose full financial need is met by the college

- Annual tuition and fees

One important point to keep in mind is that these ratings include this: "federal and private student loans." As I've mentioned many times before, you must be quite careful when reading financial aid award letters and note the percentage that loans represent in relation to the total of aid presented.

These Are the Top Three Colleges for Financial Aid

1. Columbia University in New York City

- Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $55,521

- Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,973

- Students whose full financial need was met: 99 percent

- Annual tuition and fees: $55,056

- As stated on its site, Columbia University meets 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of its first-year and transfer students. Parents of families who have a combined income of less than $60,000 aren't expected to contribute to the cost of attendance.

2. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

- Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $52,894

- Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,732

- Students whose full financial need was met: 100 percent

- Annual tuition and fees: $49,480

- On its site, Yale University says that it meets 100 percent of financial need without student loans. It puts its own average need-based scholarship at $49,575 for the 2017-2018 school year.

If a Yale student's family has an annual household income under $65,000 plus typical assets, they're not expected to pay any college costs out of pocket.

3. Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts

- Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $51,890

- Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 1,014

- Students whose full financial need was met: 100 percent

- Annual tuition and fees: $51,790

- Williams College is committed to meeting 100 percent of each student's financial need, according to the school's website. It awards over $50 million in institutional aid to its students each year.

Did you notice that Columbia and Yale will not require any out-of-pocket payment from families with combined household incomes of less than $60,000 and $65,000 per year, respectively? That's a huge advantage for students who can gain acceptance.

Toward the bottom of the report's page, there's a comprehensive listing of the Top 50 schools offering the most financial aid. It includes the following factors: Rank, college name, average financial aid package, annual tuition and fees, students receiving need-based aid, and students whose full need was met.

In closing, SLH offers some info on how to get more financial aid:

Overall, this study shows that a high price tag doesn't always put a college out of financial reach for a prospective student. College applicants and students can take steps to try to access more aid.

First, weigh the pros and cons of applying early for college. Many of the colleges on this list set early decision deadlines in November for the following school year.

Applying early can give you an edge in getting admitted and receiving more financial aid. But applying through early decision could mean you're committing to attend one college without having all the information on hand. And keep in mind that many of these colleges require additional forms, such as the CSS Profile, to apply for student aid.

Many colleges set their own definitions and methods for determining your financial need. That means you might qualify for more aid at one college than another. That's why it's important to use financial aid award letters to compare what each college can offer you.

The rankings in this study can also highlight colleges that go above and beyond to help students cover educational costs. If you're considering one of these 50 colleges, you can feel confident that it'll likely provide assistance to meet your need for student aid.

I've discussed "institutional methodology" in past articles, noting that colleges sometimes look to recruit certain types of students with specific talents or backgrounds. Finding out about these admission preferences is almost impossible to do. That brings into play the applicant's ability to "market" his or her overall profile, highlighting what may be one (or more) of these sought-after qualities.

I encourage you to study this entire report in order to get a better understanding of which schools are the most generous. Keep in mind, however, that there is often a strong positive correlation between generosity and low admission rates. As with many things in life, there's no such thing as a free lunch.