Minimize Your Out-of-Pocket College Cost – Part 2

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Money in handUpdated 2-4-17 – Updates in red

In part 1, I talked about what you can do to minimize your upcoming out-of-pocket college costs when you have a senior in high school who is in the process of getting down to the final college choice.  Today, I want to talk about what you can do when your child is a junior, sophomore or even freshman in high school.  You have a lot more time to prepare and narrow the college choice process to schools that will give you maximum “bang” for minimum “buck.”

The trick is to start with the right list of schools that will minimize your costs.  These aren’t necessarily the schools with the lowest advertised price.  The schools you want to find include the following:

  1. Schools with the largest endowments per student (this generally means more free grant money)
  2. Schools with the largest merit scholarships
  3. Schools where your child will stand out as a top performer
  4. Schools that say they meet 100% of an applicant’s demonstrated need
  5. Schools that give grant aid to families in your income range

How do you find these?

Largest Endowments & Meeting 100% of Applicant’s Need – You can find some lists of schools with the largest endowments per student online, including this one:  As you might expect, the schools at the top of this list are the big-name ones.  Princeton tops the list.  I cross-referenced this list against a list of schools that say they meet 100% of an applicant’s demonstrated financial need.  42 of the schools on the Top 50 Endowments list were also on the list of schools meeting 100% of need.  This lends credibility to the claim that schools with the largest endowments per student give the most money to accepted applicants.  What this means for you and your college-bound kid is that if your student has the right stuff to get admitted, these schools could be among the best deals to minimize your out-of-pocket college cost.  The 42 schools, in alphabetical order, are listed below:

1 Amherst
2 Bowdoin
3 Brown
4 Bryn Mawr
5 Carleton
6 Chicago
7 California Institute of Technology
8 Claremont McKenna
9 Colby
10 Colgate
11 Columbia
12 Cornell
13 Dartmouth
14 Davidson
15 Duke
16 Emory
17 Grinnell
18 Hamilton
19 Harvard
20 Harvey Mudd
21 Haverford
22 Macalester
23 Middlebury
24 MIT
25 Mount Holyoke
26 Northwestern
27 Oberlin
28 Penn
29 Pomona
30 Princeton
31 Rice
32 Richmond
33 Smith
34 Stanford
35 Swarthmore
36 Vanderbilt
37 Vassar
38 Washington University in St. Louis
39 Washington & Lee
40 Wellesley
41 Williams
42 Yale

Merit Scholarships & Need-Based Grants -You can find a few lists online of schools that offer the most merit aid, but not with many specifics.  My recommendation is to run the Net Price Calculator at a wide variety of schools that could be candidates for your child and compare the results.  Some Net Price Calculators will break out merit scholarships and grants and others will show one number under something like “Grant/Gift Aid.”  In my next post, I will provide a handy tool for tracking the details from all the Net Price Calculators that you run.  Keep in mind that these are only estimates based on the limited amount of data you plug into the calculator, but it gives you a good starting point.

Schools where your child will stand out – When you are using a college search engine, like the one at or College Navigator, look at the GPA and SAT/ACT score ranges listed for each school.  If your child is above these ranges, it increases the chances that he or she will stand out as a top performer and earn a large merit scholarship (assuming the school offers merit scholarships).  For any school where your child ranks this high, check out the admissions and scholarship information on the school’s website and don’t be afraid to contact an admissions counselor to discuss what the school might be able to offer your child.  Another thing you can do is have your child register on the Cappex website.  Cappex will make your child’s statistics available to colleges.  The colleges can then contact your child through the site to attempt to interest him or her with statements such as “you could be eligible for a full-tuition scholarship here.”  You might find some potential great deals that you wouldn’t have even considered otherwise.

If you want to find a broad list of colleges more likely to offer your student large merit scholarships, there are two easy ways to do this:

  1. Use my new institutional merit scholarship tool at to search all merit scholarships offered at colleges around the country.  You can filter by type of scholarship (automatic, competitive, talent-based, national merit, etc.), by State, by amount of scholarship, and more.
  2. Find colleges that have historically awarded merit scholarships to a high percentage of applicants.  The easiest way to do this is to go to the DIY College Rankings website and purchase the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.  You can sort this spreadsheet by the percent of freshman awarded merit aid.


1 Comment

Grace · February 6, 2013 at 12:14 pm

15 of the schools on your list are also highlighted in this article: It gives some details on what the schools will cover. Most pledge to cover everything above the families EFC without any loans.

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