Best Colleges for Need-Based Financial Aid

Money pouring out from a notebook computer

The best colleges for need-based financial aid are ones that pledge to meet a high percentage of a family’s “need”.  In fact, there are 66 colleges around the U.S. that pledge to meet an applicant’s full financial need.  I found the most recent listing of these schools on the US News website (posted September 19, 2016).

In my last post, Institutional Merit Scholarships Equal Tuition Discounts, I talked primarily about merit scholarships, but I promised to talk more about Ivy League and other colleges that offer only need-based financial aid in my next post.  I took an extra week before writing this post, because I wanted to research the 66 colleges that pledge to meet an applicant’s full financial need further to see how many offered merit scholarships also, what types of merit scholarships, and what levels of family income qualified for need-based aid.

Do the 66 Colleges That Meet Full Financial Need Offer Merit Aid?

35 of the colleges that claim to meet 100% of financial need also offer merit aid.

The 8 Ivy League schools do not offer merit aid.

What Types of Merit Scholarships Do These 35 Colleges Offer?

This varies quite a bit.  Here are some examples:

  • Boston College – Only offers Presidential Full Tuition Scholarship to top 20 applicants
  • Bryn Mawr College – Merit scholarships range from $12,000 – $30,000 per year
  • Davidson College – Offers merit scholarships up to Full Ride
  • Trinity College (CT) – Only seems to offer the Illinois Scholar program which offers merit scholarships to selected students from Illinois

On my Full Scholarship List, you will find full-ride and/or full-tuition scholarships offered by some of the schools on the list below that offer merit scholarships.

Who Qualifies for Need-Based Financial Aid at These Colleges?

These schools all come up with their own definitions of who has “financial need”.  Some of these schools display grids on their websites showing the number of students in many different income categories who are receiving need-based financial aid and the averages they are receiving.  Let’s take a look at four schools that display average need-based aid grids.

Macalester College is one of these schools.  You can find their grid here.  Current tuition at Macalester College is $50,418.  In the category of family incomes of $200,000 and above, 49% of applicants for Fall of 2016 received need-based aid awards averaging $23,171 with a minimum award of $2,019 and a maximum award of $43,882.  For family incomes up to $99,000, 100% of applicants received need-based aid awards ranging from $12,569 to $65,861.

Northwestern University is another school with an income-based grid showing financial aid.  Northwestern’s tuition is $50,424.  98% of applicants for Fall of 2015 with family incomes below $30,000 received need-based aid with an average award of $50,029.  50% of applicants with family incomes of $150,000 or more received need-based aid with a $25,876 average award.

Stanford University has a grid showing income levels from less than $65,000 up to $245,000 or greater.  Stanford’s tuition is $47,331.  Stanford has a disclaimer that most families with incomes of $215,000 or greater who qualify for financial aid have 2 or more kids in college at the same time.  For income levels of $185,000 – $215,000, 89% of applicants qualify for an average award of $26,402.  95% of families making $125,000 to $155,000 qualify for an average award of $40,873.  See the next section below to see what Stanford gives families making less than $125,000.

University of Notre Dame offers need-based scholarships to students with family incomes ranging from less than $20,000 up to more than $200,000, and the scholarship amounts range inversely from a high of $62,700 for the lowest income category to a low of $10,000 in the highest income category.

Some of the schools pledge free tuition to certain families.  Examples:

  • Dartmouth College – Offers free tuition to families with incomes under $100,000 and “typical” assets
  • Stanford University – Covers all tuition charges for families making under $125,000 and expects no parental contribution at all for families making under $65,000

The full list of the 66 colleges that meet full financial need, their U.S. News rank and category, and whether or not they offer merit scholarships, is included below.  I included the U.S. News rank and category because it is interesting to note that these schools are almost all near the top of their respective categories.

66 Colleges That Meet Full Financial Need

School Name (State) U.S. News rank and category Offer Merit Scholarships?
Amherst College (MA) 2, National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Barnard College (NY) 27 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Bates College (ME) 27 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Boston College 31, National Universities Yes
Bowdoin College (ME) 6, National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Brown University (RI) 14, National Universities No
Bryn Mawr College (PA) 31, National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
California Institute of Technology 12 (tie), National Universities No
Carleton College (MN) 7 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Claremont McKenna College (CA) 9 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Colby College (ME) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Colgate University (NY) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
College of the Holy Cross (MA) 32 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Colorado College 24 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Columbia University (NY) 5 (tie), National Universities No (combo merit & need scholarships offered only)
Connecticut College 50, National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Cornell University (NY) 15 (tie), National Universities No
Dartmouth College (NH) 11, National Universities No
Davidson College (NC) 9 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Duke University (NC) 8 (tie), National Universities Yes
Franklin and Marshall College (PA) 47 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Georgetown University (DC) 20 (tie), National Universities No
Grinnell College (IA) 19 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Hamilton College (NY) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Harvard University (MA) 2, National Universities No
Harvey Mudd College (CA) 21 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Haverford College (PA) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Kenyon College (OH) 27 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Lafayette College (PA) 36 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Macalester College (MN) 24 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7, National Universities No
Middlebury College (VT) 4 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Mount Holyoke College (MA) 36 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Northwestern University (IL) 12 (tie), National Universities No
Oberlin College (OH) 24 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Occidental College (CA) 44 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Pomona College (CA) 7 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Princeton University (NJ) 1, National Universities No
Rice University (TX) 15 (tie), National Universities Yes
Salem College (NC) 122 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Scripps College (CA) 23, National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Smith College (MA) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Soka University of America (CA) 41 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Stanford University (CA) 5 (tie), National Universities No
Swarthmore College (PA) 4 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Thomas Aquinas College (CA) 53 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Trinity College (CT) 38 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Tufts University (MA) 27 (tie), National Universities No
Union College (NY) 38 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
University of Chicago 3 (tie), National Universities Yes
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill 30, National Universities Yes
University of Notre Dame (IN) 15 (tie), National Universities Yes
University of Pennsylvania 8 (tie), National Universities No
University of Richmond (VA) 27 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
University of Southern California 23, National Universities Yes
University of Virginia 24 (tie), National Universities Yes
Vanderbilt University (TN) 15 (tie), National Universities Yes
Vassar College (NY) 12 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Wake Forest University (NC) 27 (tie), National Universities Yes
Walla Walla University (WA) 52 (tie), Regional Universities (West) Yes
Washington and Lee University (VA) 11, National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes
Washington University in St. Louis 19, National Universities Yes
Wellesley College (MA) 3, National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Wesleyan University (CT) 21 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges Yes -limited
Williams College (MA) 1, National Liberal Arts Colleges No
Yale University (CT) 3 (tie), National Universities No
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