50 Most Affordable Colleges that Meet Significant Financial Need

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By Gabrielle Kratsas
October 2017

One of the most often sought out facts concerning the vast spectrum of higher education institutions is affordability: What is the college financial aid offerings and are there scholarships for college freshmen? What many prospective students and families don’t realize is that a large number of American colleges and universities claim to cover 100 percent their undergraduates’ demonstrated financial need, and they (often selectively) admit these students regardless of their financial backgrounds.

However, take a moment to consider each school’s policy or standards for determining their students’ demonstrated need because every school sets its own financial need definitions. To combat this, we made it a point to include the Net Cost and average graduate indebtedness for most schools on this list to show that they are doing what they can to produce alumni with minimal student loan debt. Some of these ‘cheap’ colleges go as far as refusing to include loans in their financial aid packages.

Many colleges and universities who claim to meet this great level of financial need are private and associated with big price tags, as with the Ivy League Schools. But many of these high-price schools come with the funds to support those who can’t support themselves, so we encourage prospective students to evaluate their “demonstrated need” at each school by utilizing ‘net price calculators’ to find the net cost of their individual situations (located on each school’s website). College student hopefuls and their families get a much better idea of what they’ll have to fork over for a college education by investigating each school’s net costs, which is the tuition minus the average amount of aid one might receive.

Other factors to consider when determining the true cost of your college experience are state and national programs and partnerships that exist with the purpose of making college affordable. For example, QuestBridge is a national nonprofit organization that partners with universities and connects them with low-income students, offering over $2 billion in assistance to these students if they plan to enroll at one of the partner institutions. New York State also offers the nation’s first accessible tuition-free degree program: The Excelsior Scholarship. This state-run program allows qualifying resident students with annual family incomes of up to $125,000 to attend any CUNY and SUNY two and four-year colleges without paying a dime for tuition.

The best news is that most colleges and universities are happy to share information about how they can offer a more affordable education, so we gathered some of that and provided links for more in this list of the cheapest colleges offering the most financial aid.

We sourced information from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database, U.S. News & World Report, Wikipedia, the individual school’s website and other college resource websites listed at the end of this article.

To create this ranking, we started with a list of over 100 schools that claim to meet full financial need. To help our readers find the absolute best value, we narrowed that list down to the 50 cheapest colleges, according to their reported Net Costs. While schools may claim to meet full financial need, each of them have their own (sometimes skewed) definitions of “demonstrated financial need,” so the Net Cost is still significant. Most of them offer “Net Price Calculators” on their websites, which provide good estimates of what different types of students will be expected to pay out of pocket. The Net Cost of each school, as reported by the College Navigator database, is what we used to determine each school’s placement in the ranking.

50. California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA

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Of the class that graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 2014-15, 39 percent graduated with educational debt, which was around $20,667 on average.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $26,839

Opened in 1891, the California Institute of Technology is a renowned private, doctoral university where things like the Richter Scale were developed and the Clean Air Act started. Just minutes from downtown Los Angeles, the self-sufficient 124-acre campus is home to 2,500 students who enjoy one of the lowest student-teacher ratios (3:1), a diverse student body and high undergraduate research involvement. Enrolled students choose from 26 different majors within six academic divisions, and more than half of them (51%) receive need-based financial aid to earn their degrees. CalTech’s average need-based financial aid package is a little more than $46,000, and the majority of undergraduate financial aid awards come from grants. Although this affordable university doesn’t have a merit-based aid program, some of the need-based named scholarships have merit components.

49. University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, IN

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Not only do graduates of the University Notre Dame have a default rate of less than one percent, but students with families earning $250,000 and more each year are still receiving median scholarships of around $15,200.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $26,683

Chartered by the state in 1844, the University of Notre Dame is a large, highly residential research university with Catholic traditions that claims to meet the fully-demonstrated financial need for all of its admitted students. Over 8,600 undergraduate students, who represent all 50 states and more than 100 countries, have the choice of 75 different bachelor’s degree programs and NCAA Division I athletics on this beautiful 1,250-acre park-like campus with its striking collegiate Gothic architecture. Notre Dame is need-blind in its admissions and need-based in its financial aid policy, taking into account income, family size, number of children enrolled in undergraduate programs, private elementary and secondary tuition expenses, family assets and more when determining eligibility for financial assistance. Administering financial aid resources from institutional, private, federal and state student aid programs, Notre Dame awarded nearly 75 percent of its students some type of financial aid last year. More than half of the incoming freshman class received almost $40,000, on average, in need-based gift assistance the same year.

48. Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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Georgetown University does not offer academic or merit-based scholarships, but it does consider non-U.S. residents for a limited number of need-based scholarships.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $26,625

Established in 1789, Georgetown University is a private research institution and the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. The 104 acre campus is home to nine academic schools where 4,523 students were enrolled as of 2016. Each year, Georgetown awards several hundred need-based scholarships to qualified undergraduate students with individual awards ranging from $1,000 to more than $60,000 per year. The school’s handsome federal work-study awards range from $3,000 to $3,600, depending on the student’s year. The Georgetown Scholarship Program was founded in 2004 and has since helped more than 1,400 students cover the costs of college. Students can afford and benefit from earning an education in the nation’s capital while receiving average grant or scholarship aid of $40,346.

47. Clark University in Worcester, MA

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As long as they maintain certain academic standards, eligible Clark University students can receive scholarships amounting up to $20,000 per year, renewable up to four years.

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Student Retention Rate: 88%
Net Cost: $26,350

Founded in 1887, Clark University is a private liberal arts-based research university located 50 miles west of Boston, with 3,224 students. It offers 17 varsity sports, a 10:1 student-teacher ratio and 32 undergraduate majors, as well as 14 accelerated BA/master’s degree programs in science, management, finance, education and more, which students can complete in five years at four years’ cost (fifth year is free). Clark awarded about $60 million in financial assistance during the 2016-17 academic year. Approximately 85 percent of students received some form of aid, while 65 percent specifically received merit-based awards that same year. To ensure proper distribution of funds, students taking part in a Clark study abroad program can utilize their financial aid, but cannot receive federal work study that year/semester.

46. Lafayette College in Easton, PA

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The endowment-per-student ratio at Lafayette College is in the top eight percent of all colleges and universities in the country.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $26,208

Incorporated in 1826, Lafayette College is a private liberal arts college situated on a 230-acre campus overlooking the Delaware River, just 70 miles west of New York City. Accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Lafayette enrolls 2,450 students and offers 37 fields of study that lead to a BA, as well as 14 fields leading to a BS, including four engineering programs. Athletes can earn scholarships in 11 sports–a small example of how Lafayette spends its annual $47 million financial aid budget. With more than half of the student body receiving aid, the current rate for work-study students is $7.25/hour. This affordable college is among a small number that are dedicated to eliminating or lowering its students’ loan burden if their families earn less than $100,000 annually.

45. Beloit College in Beloit, WI

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Beloit College was cited on The Princeton Review’s Financial Aid Honor Roll, and its students with family incomes of $200,000 and over still receive aid awards around $23,372.

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Student Retention Rate: 86%
Net Cost: $25,790

Founded in 1846, Beloit College is a private liberal arts school and the oldest continuously operating college in Wisconsin. Its 1,250 students come from almost every state, D.C. and 40 different nations. These students choose from more than 50 majors and more than 30 minors and can take advantage of the average class size of 15 students. A number of dual-degree and pre-professional programs are also available on this 40-acre campus that houses four buildings on the National or State Register of Historic Places. Accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Beloit has a financial aid program that evaluates scholastic ability and financial need when determining award qualifications. Full-time students can receive up to nine semesters of the College’s need-based gift aid, of which students receive average awards around $26,226.

44. Pitzer College in Claremont, CA

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Pitzer College has been recognized as being among the colleges with the least student loan debt, graduating students with an average loan indebtedness that was approximately $21,569 in 2016.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $25,521

Founded in 1963, Pitzer College is private liberal arts and sciences institution that enrolls approximately 1,000 students and is part of The Claremont Colleges, a unique consortium of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate schools. Pitzer students enjoy an 11:1 student-faculty ratio, 40+ majors, the option to create their own special majors and a campus location one hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles, the desert highlands and some of the tallest mountains in SoCal. About 46 percent of the entire Pitzer student body received financial assistance during 2016-17. Financial aid packages can include Pitzer Scholarships. These funds are sourced from gifts, the school’s endowment and its current budget; they’re awarded on the basis of need. In the 2018 “Best 382 Colleges,” The Princeton Review ranked Pitzer No. 20 for “Great Financial Aid”.

43. Brown University in Providence, RI

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As one of the Ivy League colleges, Brown University doesn’t award aid based on academic achievement, athletic ability or other forms of merit.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $25,264

Founded in 1764, Brown University is a private research Ivy League college with about 6,200 undergraduate students who come from all 50 states and more than 115 countries. Undergraduates at Brown can earn bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, including unique disciplines like Egyptology and cognitive neuroscience; it also offers 51 doctoral programs and 28 master’s programs. According to the school, admission is based on “achievement, aspiration and potential,” and it budgeted $120.5 million to provide significant need-based scholarships in 2016-17 to meet 100 percent of need. Within the Class of 2020, 41 percent of students receive need-based scholarships, and the average award is $47,940. While many schools on this list require families to make some kind of contribution to their students’ education, those at Brown with total parent earnings less than $60,000 and assets less than $100,000 aren’t expected to contribute.

42. Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME

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National Merit Scholars at Bowdoin College who are eligible for institutional financial aid receive a renewable $2,000 award.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $24,888

Chartered in 1794, Bowdoin College is a private, not-for-profit liberal arts school offering a bachelor of arts degree program to its 1,805 students through more than 40 different majors. With a 9:1 student-teacher ratio, Bowdoin tied for No. 3 in U.S. News & World Report’s “National Liberal Arts Colleges” ranking. Like most others in this list, Bowdoin focuses on need-blind admissions and meeting 100 percent of its demonstrated financial need, all without including loans in its packages. About half of incoming students receive grants and scholarships from Bowdoin annually. These awards have ranged from $2,000 to $66,000. This affordable college sets aside a limited amount of its aid funds for international and transfer students, and almost 75 percent of all students take advantage of some type of financial aid program.

41. Emory University in Atlanta, GA

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An impressive 20 percent of students at Emory University receive federal Pell Grants, and the university offers summer study abroad grants ranging from $1,649 to $7,539.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $24,804

Founded in 1836, Emory University is a private research institution located on a 600-acre neighborhood campus that remains peaceful and pedestrian-friendly, regardless of its close proximity to one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Total enrollment is over 15,250 students. The university’s acceptance rate is around 25.2 percent and the school’s 18 varsity athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division III. The total undergraduate financial aid Emory awarded its students in 2016-17 was $154 million, with the average financial aid package amounting to $42,277. While Emory doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, the school does have its unique Emory Advantage financial aid initiative aimed to reduce the amount of money borrowed by families with annual total incomes of $100,000 or less.

40. Hamilton College in Clinton, NY

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Within just one year of graduation, 95 percent of Hamilton College alumni are in a job, graduate school, internship or pursuing a fellowship.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $24,397

Chartered as a college in 1812, Hamilton College is private liberal arts college that offers a need-blind admission policy and an open curriculum in addition to a 9:1 student-teacher ratio and a target student enrollment of 1,850. After surpassing the 26 percent acceptance rate, students can choose from 686 available courses in 56 areas of study and 29 varsity athletic teams. On the financial aid front, Hamilton commits $40 billion to its annual award budget and offers an average award package of $47,003, which includes scholarships, student loans and work study. About 50 percent of students receive financial aid each year at Hamilton, and the federal subsidized loan amounts in student aid packages do not exceed $3,500. On average in recent years, Hamilton students graduate with a total student indebtedness ranging from $16,500 to $21,500.

39. Smith College in Northampton, MA

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Smith College students have access to a 11 varsity sports and 1,000 academic courses in 50 areas of study.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $24,258

Founded in 1871, Smith College is an independent, nondenominational women’s liberal arts college that also offers coed graduate and certificate programs. With about 2,500 on-campus students and 260 studying off-campus, Smith is the largest member college of the Seven Sisters and among the largest women’s colleges in the U.S. Each year, about 70 percent of Smith graduates quickly find employment, while 25 percent move on to graduate school. Smith operates a need-based aid program aimed to meet “full documented need” of all admitted students, awarding college-funded need-based gift aid to 60 percent of students. Smith grants range from $849 to $68,282, the average need-based grant amounts to $43,839 and the College awards a limited number of merit scholarships.

38. Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN

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In addition to the available President’s, Deans, Alumni and Honor merit awards and Fine Arts scholarships, students can take advantage of work-study grants, with which they can make $8/hour during the academic year.

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Student Retention Rate: 92%
Net Cost: $24,245

Established in 1832, Wabash College is a private liberal arts college for men that has roughly 900 students, 25 majors leading to a BA degree, 11 NCAA Division III varsity sports and a student-faculty ratio of 10:1 or lower. On the 60-acre wooded campus, students learn in buildings with Georgian architecture that have been renovated or are brand new as of the last decade. Thanks to the generosity of Wabash’s alumni, this college can set tuition at about half of what it actually costs to educate each student each year. About two-thirds of students at Wabash receive need-based aid, but about 99 percent receive any kind of aid. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, this small college also offers merit-based aid, like its signature scholarship, the Lilly Award, which amounts to more than $200,000 over four years to cover tuition, fees, room and board.

37. Bates College in Lewiston, ME

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On average, Bates College students who graduated in 2016 had just $13,170 in federal student loan debt, which is less than half the national average.

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Student Retention Rate: 95%
Net Cost: $24,055

Founded in 1855, Bates College is a private, residential liberal arts and sciences school that is often recognized for its “inclusive social character.” The 2,000 students at Bates benefit from a 10:1 student-teacher ratio, non-selective student organizations and a campus void of fraternities and sororities. Bates offers 36 majors and 25 minors, and it has been named a “Fulbright Top Producer” more than once, producing a college-record 18 Fulbright fellows in 2015. Bates is among the top college offering the most financial aid, providing more than $33 million, annually, in student grant aid. About half of its students receive financial aid with awards averaging around $45,500 and packages including grants, loans and student work. Individual awards in 2016-17 ranged from $1,000 to $65,750, and Bates partners with Tuition Management Systems to offer a 10-month payment plan to make tuition more affordable.

36. Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA

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The Washington and Lee Promise guarantees financial aid packages that cover tuition or more to admitted undergraduates with family incomes below $75,000.

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Student Retention Rate: 95%
Net Cost: $23,867

Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee University is a private liberal arts university, offering 37 majors, over 1,200 courses, an 8:1 student-faculty ratio and a 90 percent four-year graduation rate for its fewer than 2,000 undergraduate students. About 97 percent of W&L’s Class of 2015 is employed or attending graduate school, and other graduates have enjoyed a 95 percent law school acceptance rate and 92 percent acceptance rate for med school. All applicants, including first-year, international and undocumented students, are eligible to apply for the university’s need-based grants and merit scholarships. About 240 first-year students receive scholarships or grants, while 615 students participate in the work-study program. The average grant amount in 2015 was $38,261, which was awarded to students entirely debt-free; federal loans are only offered when the family needs help covering its contribution. Through a partnership with the QuestBridge Program, Washington and Lee is made more accessible to low-income students; the program connected students to more than $2 billion in university awards, making it possible for 40,000+ to attend top colleges like W&L.

35. Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC

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Wake Forest University will cap loans at $4,000 per year for students whose families have annual incomes less than $40,000.

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Student Retention Rate: 95%
Net Cost: $23,826

Founded in 1834, Wake Forest University is a small, private, nonprofit and nonsectarian research university in eastern North Carolina with almost 8,000 students coming from 48 states and 46 different countries. WFU’s six colleges and schools offer 42 undergraduate majors and programs, a 10:1 student-teacher ratio and some of the best study abroad programs, which sent 61 percent of Class of 2015 graduates to destinations away from the 340-acre campus. The average aid award for the 2016-17 year at WFU was $49,000, $42,300 of which came from scholarship and grant funds. Wake Forest students have been able to cover more than three-fourths of their total college costs with these awards, as well as need-based loans and a work-study job. While more than 56 percent of undergraduates receive financial assistance, less than three percent of first-year applicants earn one of the merit-based scholarships, which are renewable through four years. WFU need-based award amounts are subject to change if students receive other outside scholarships.

34. Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO

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On average, students eligible for financial aid at Colorado College receive an award around $39,788.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $23,812

Founded in 1874, Colorado College is private and located near the foot of the Rocky Mountains, offering a uniquely broad liberal arts curriculum that works on the College’s Block Plan, an academic schedule where the 2,000 enrolled students take one class at a time for three-and-a-half weeks without choosing a major until the second year. Although this school has a daunting 15.8 percent acceptance rate, the opportunities are worth the squeeze; 81 percent of CC students get to study abroad before graduation. Different types of aid available at CC include institutional work study grants up to $2,100, as well as selective merit-based scholarships that range from $40,000 four-year scholarships and athletic scholarships through women’s soccer and men’s ice hockey (NCAA Division I). During the 2015-16 academic year, 61 percent of students earned some type of known aid from a variety of sources, including the College, which personally administers 260 different grants and scholarships, funded via endowments, bequests and gifts from philanthropic organizations, alumni and friends of the college.

33. Trinity College in Hartford, CT

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Trinity College’s students participating in federal work study can earn between $10.10 and $10.85/hour while working no more than 10 hours each week.

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Student Retention Rate: 90%
Net Cost: $23,414

Founded in 1823, Trinity College is a private, nonprofit liberal arts and sciences school and the second oldest college in the state. Set on a stunning 100-acre campus with the oldest (but recently restored) example of Collegiate Gothic architecture in the U.S., Trinity offers its 2,200 students the chance to earn a degree with signature disciplines like a first-of-its-kind human rights program, 27 interdisciplinary minors and a 9:1 student-teacher ratio. Of the 45 percent of Trinity students receiving some sort of financial aid, just five percent of that comes from funds outside of the college, which commits more than $30 million to financial aid annually. Of those students receiving aid in a recent first-year class, the median family income was $83,000. This affordable College also has a “very small” merit-based financial aid fund.

32. St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM

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St. John’s College offers significant financial aid for international students, which is awarded through scholarships, grants, loans and campus employment.

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Student Retention Rate: 83%
Net Cost: $23,389

Founded in 1696, St. John’s College is private, offering a distinctive liberal arts curriculum that centers on reading and discussing the Great Books of Western Civilization, and this academic experience is void of “required lectures, majors or back rows.” In classes with fewer than 20, the 818 students over two campuses in Santa Fe and Annapolis work toward a bachelor or master of liberal arts, as well as a master of eastern classics (Santa Fe only). The average financial aid award at St. John’s amounts to $41,324 and includes both need and merit-based scholarships; the college awards around $20.2 million in scholarships. A whopping 20 percent of SJC students receive Pell Grants. While these financial aid packages do include loans, St. John’s College Loans are primarily available to those international students ineligible to borrow federal loans.

31. Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA

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Franklin & Marshall College has managed to decrease its student debt at graduation by nearly 20 percent since 2012.

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Student Retention Rate: 91%
Net Cost: $23,182

Founded in 1787 as Franklin College, Franklin & Marshall College is a private residential liberal arts school with about 600 class spots for the 7,000 applicants each year, a 9:1 student-faculty ratio; 59 fields of study for a BA degree and a 220-acre campus where students can access Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City easily by train. More than half of F&M’s students take advantage of the 200 study abroad programs that reach 60 countries, and the costs are often covered by the student’s financial aid package. Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, F&M claims to meet 100 percent of students’ institutionally determined financial need for all four years, and the college awards $49 million in need-based aid annually. About 52 percent of students receive this aid, and the average award is $47,727. Federal work study students are able to work up to 10 hours per week, earning almost $2,000 during an academic year.

30. Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN

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Vanderbilt University offers a generous amount of college scholarships: of the total amount of aid awarded to first-year undergraduate students (2015-16), $38,918,634 came from the university’s funds.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $23,150

Created in 1873, Vanderbilt University is a private research university with an urban campus where 12,587 students work toward degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education and human development. Vanderbilt students benefit from an arboretum campus set 1.5 miles away from downtown Music City, 500+ student clubs and organizations, 14 sororities, 19 fraternities and 38 residence halls and apartments. Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Vanderbilt awarded $42,938,049 in gift assistance to all first-year undergraduate students for the 2014-15 academic year. Also that year, more than 60 percent of undergraduates received some type of aid from a variety of sources like merit and need-based scholarships, grants and federal/state assistance. The Expanded Aid Program at this top college completely excludes loans from need-based aid packages.

29. Austin College in Sherman, TX

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Once admitted to Austin College, you can qualify for at least $17,000 each year just by having a SAT score of 1100, an ACT of 24 or a finishing spot in the top 25% of your high school class.

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Student Retention Rate: 83%
Net Cost: $23,091

Founded in 1849 by a Princeton-educated Presbyterian missionary, Austin College is a private liberal arts school situated on an 85-acre campus less than 60 minutes north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. All of the 1,350 students at Austin work with a faculty mentor toward unique degrees in areas like East Asian languages, nonprofit organizations and public service, global management and neuroscience. According to the college, 100 percent of freshmen receive gift aid, and $29,972 is the average award amount. An average financial aid package at Austin includes merit-based scholarships, need-based grants from the College, federal and state grants, loan programs, work-study and more. The general academic scholarships range from $18,000 to $27,000, and federal work study students earn $7.25 working eight hours per week.

28. Columbia University in New York City, NY

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Columbia University awards its students more than $150 million every year in scholarships and grants from all sources.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $22,973

Established in 1754, Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, offering its 31,317 students a 6:1 undergraduate student-faculty ratio, instruction in more than 40 languages and one of the top 10 library systems in America with 22 libraries. This small college has the reach of a large university because of its affiliation with several other nearby institutions like Barnard College (No. 26 on this list). After earning their way through the 5.8 percent acceptance rate, 50 percent of admitted Columbia students receive grants from the college and financial aid packages that were $52,073 on average. About 16 percent of Columbia’s undergraduates also receive the Pell Grant, which is reserved for the students in the country who have the highest need. However, families with an annual income over 100,000 can still receive financial aid.

27. University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA

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The University of Pennsylvania has over 10,000 undergraduate students, making it the largest college in the U.S. to offer an all-grant financial aid program, which was launched in 2007 and has made an Ivy League education accessible for about 7,475 students.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $22,944

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university with 21,358 total students (2016), four undergraduate schools and a 299-acre campus in West Philadelphia. Penn has a close-knit academic community with a 6:1 student-teacher ratio, and the undergraduate graduation rate is 95 percent. Penn is ranked among the top of Kiplinger’s Best Values in Private Universities, but it does not offer academic merit-based scholarships. Still, 90 percent of first-generation students receive financial aid at this top university, and the average financial aid package incoming freshmen received in 2017 was $50,171. If your family earns less than $40,000, you may receive a full ride, and those with incomes under $75,000 receive full tuition and room. Penn’s unique all-grant financial aid policy states that the university’s financial aid packages will only include grants and federal work study, not loans, regardless of income level.

26. Barnard College in New York City, NY

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Barnard College’s Class of 2016 graduated with an average financial indebtedness of $23,450.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $22,815

Founded in 1889, Barnard College is the only private women’s liberal arts college in NYC today and is an affiliated institution of Columbia University (No. 28 on this list), the Jewish Theological Seminary, The Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. This academic community is home to more than 45,000 students from around the world, who have access to more than 1,500 courses, a system of 22 libraries, more than 500 student organizations and NCAA Division I athletics. This college is need-blind in its first-year admission process and meets the need of all eligible students through packages that include loans, grants and job opportunities, not merit-based scholarships. Barnard awards some kind of financial aid to 40 percent of its students (2016-17), as well as a travel allowance for all students to get to and from the college. The average need-based scholarships at Barnard during the 2016-17 year was $43,183.

25. Colgate University in Hamilton, NY

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The students at Colgate University get to enjoy a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, almost 200 student-run organizations and 25 Division I athletic teams.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $22,463

Founded in 1819, Colgate University is a private liberal arts college situated on a 575-acre residential campus in central New York. Colgate’s nearly 3,000 students, 15 percent of whom are international, are working toward a bachelor of the arts degree with 55 undergraduate concentrations to choose from. The most popular majors of 2016 were business/management, communications/media, consulting, education and financial services. The average financial aid award at this college is about $52,075, which is made up of  a Colgate grant of $46,775, a campus job for $2,800 and a $2,500 student loan. Claiming to meet 100 percent of all admitted students’ demonstrated need, Colgate granted financial aid awards to 41 percent of the Class of 2021, and the school’s average four-year debt for its students is just $15,500. Academic merit scholarships are not available at Colgate.

24. University of Richmond in Richmond, VA

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At the University of Richmond, the only college with a spider as its mascot, about 66 percent of undergraduate students receive great financial aid packages.

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Student Retention Rate: 93%
Net Cost: $22,400

Founded by Virginia Baptists in 1830, the University of Richmond is a private, nonsectarian liberal arts university with a selective, need-blind admissions process and an 8:1 student-teacher ratio. The 4,181 total students at Richmond have the choice of more than 60 undergraduate majors on the 350-acre suburban campus, which lies just 90 miles from Washington, D.C. Admitted Virginia students with an annual parental income of $60,000 or less receive a full financial aid package from the university that is equal to tuition, room and a meal plan, without taking out loans. Richmond has awarded an impressive $69 million in institutional grants and scholarships to 65 percent of its students with the average need-based award amounting to $45,780. Regardless of their need eligibility, all first-year applicants are additionally considered for merit-based aid, which include the Richmond Scholars program–covering up to full tuition, room and meals–other full-tuition scholarships and a variety of interest-based programs.

23. Rice University in Houston, TX

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Rice university aims to meet full financial need of all admitted applicants, including undocumented students who have DACA status at the time of admission and undocumented non-DACA students who are long-term residents in the U.S. and who graduated from an American high school.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $22,061

Chartered in 1891, Rice University is a private research university situated on a 300-acre tree-filled campus within the largest city in the southern U.S. Because of its small student population–3,879 undergraduate and 2,861 graduate students–Rice is able to offer an intimate 6:1 student-faculty ratio and a median undergraduate class size of 15 students. Offering more than 50 undergraduate majors across six divisions of study, this affordable university won’t award loans to students whose family total income is below $80,000. The school also practices need-blind admissions and offers need-based financial aid to a limited number of international undergraduate applicants through combinations of scholarships, federal work-study, federal/private loans and grants. According to College Navigator, 67 percent of first-time Rice students receive some form of aid, while 63 percent of all undergraduate students are receiving aid through grants and/or scholarships. A number of merit-based scholarships are available.

22. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY

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Vassar College does not offer athletic or merit-based scholarships; however, students may apply their financial aid packages to any of the school’s multiple opportunities for studying abroad.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $21,933

Founded in 1861, Vassar College is a highly selective private, coeducational liberal arts college with a 1,000-acre campus known for its beauty and 2,450 total students. Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, this nonprofit college meets 100 percent of the demonstrated need of all admitted students, including international and undocumented, for all four years. In addition to awarding some kind of aid to 60 percent of students, Vassar pledges to eliminate or reduce loans in the aid awards of students from low-income families. In the 2016-17 academic year, families with annual income ranging from $0 to $270,000 received awards for their students’ education that ranged from $1,700 to more than $65,000. Financial aid award packages from Vassar typically include: some combination of a school-funded scholarship; state, federal, or private grants; a student loan; and a campus job.

21. Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA

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Through a policy established in 2008, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ensures that through scholarship funding, students with families earning $80,000 or less will attend MIT tuition-free.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $21,576

Founded in 1861, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a privately-owned research institute with five schools, more than 11,000 students and a reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious universities. MIT boasts need-blind admissions that lead to 100 percent coverage of demonstrated need without income caps. Even MIT students with families who earn more than $250,000 can receive grants based on “extenuating circumstances,” according to the university. MIT’s aid comes in forms of scholarships (primarily the MIT Scholarship need-based grant), loans and jobs; about 90 percent of undergraduates work on paid research projects before graduation, and those working other campus jobs earn at least $11.50/hr. In 2015-16, a whopping 70 percent of undergraduate students graduated MIT with no debt, and those who did have debt sustained 18 percent less than the 2015 national average. While MIT awarded $97.1 million in its need-based scholarships during that year, the school expected to raise that to $114.2 million in 2016-17.

20. Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT

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According to Middlebury College, awarded loan amounts will rise slightly in the coming years to an average undergraduate federal loan indebtedness of $15,517.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $21,437

Established in 1800, Middlebury College is a private liberal arts school that offers graduate and specialized programs around the world in addition to the more than 850 courses in 44 majors on its mountain-surrounded campus. Of the approximately 2,500 undergraduate students, about 50 percent receive Middlebury grant aid, and the average grant for the Class of 2020 was $43,154. One of the various colleges with need-blind admission policies on this list, Middlebury ignores the financial status of U.S., undocumented and DACA student applicants, and it follows a need-aware policy for international students. The college meets 100 percent of financial need, which is calculated by the Student Financial Services Office, by awarding financial aid in the form of grants, loans and employment in work-study jobs. After four years, all aid recipients have a maximum level of awarded student loan debt that ranges from $7,000 to $19,000.

19. Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH

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Forbes’ college ranking has dubbed Dartmouth College as having one of the highest returns on investment in the Ivy League.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $21,177

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth College is a member of the Ivy League and a smaller research university with about 4,300 undergraduate students and more than 40 departments and programs within its Undergraduate College. Admission to Dartmouth is incredibly selective but need-blind, and two-thirds of admitted undergraduates receive some kind of need-based financial aid from their college, the government or a combination of the two. Students can take their financial aid overseas as well; the more than 40 study abroad programs cost the same as an on-campus term and can be covered by institutional aid. In the 2016-17 academic year, Dartmouth awarded $95 million in scholarships to its students, and the average annual scholarship for the Class of ’20 is $47,833. Students whose families earn $100,000 or less annually with typical assets can go to Dartmouth without paying tuition. Overall, the average student debt for four year combined has been $20,373.

18. Haverford College in Haverford, PA

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About 56 percent of the student body at Haverford College receives some kind of financial aid, and more than 50 percent receive a college grant with an average amount of $40,014.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $21,144

Founded in 1833, Haverford College is a private liberal arts school just eight miles outside of Philadelphia. Haverford serves 1,318 students, 98 percent of whom live on the 200-acre award-winning campus that has its own nationally recognized arboretum. All students at this college, which has a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, are expected to get involved in research. They have additional opportunities to take classes at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges or earn a five-year BS and master’s degree program through the University of Pennsylvania. Haverford claims to meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students, including international, undocumented, transfer and waitlisted students. It accomplishes this with a $26 million annual financial aid budget and a no-loans policy for students with family incomes below $60,000. Haverford also offers a unique Student Loan Debt Relief Fund program, which provides loan repayment funds to young alumni “who are employed in jobs of high social value with low remuneration, or who are in transition at some point following graduation.”

17. Colby College in Waterville, ME

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There is no fee associated with applying to Colby College, and all eligible financial aid recipients are automatically considered for grants.

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Student Retention Rate: 93%
Net Cost: $21,032

Founded in 1813, Colby College is a small school with 2,000 students from more than 70 different countries, as well as the twelfth-oldest private liberal arts college in the country. Every undergraduate major offers students research opportunities at this 714-acre college campus, which includes 30 residence halls, an extensive athletic complex and the Colby College Museum of Art. The fourth college in the country to achieve carbon neutrality, Colby has given all admitted students the opportunity to graduate without any loans to repay by meeting 100 percent of their demonstrated financial need. Colby awards more than $30 million in financial aid through grants, which come from federal and state governments, the college’s funds and other outside agencies. This college also offers hundreds of student job opportunities, and it often matches student interest with specific employment openings on campus. Students, even those not receiving financial aid, can earn up to $1,850 yearly through these jobs.

16. Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA

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Admitted students at Thomas Aquinas College benefit from an 11:1 student-teacher ratio and a 131-acre campus just 65 miles from Los Angeles.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $20,882

Opened in 1971, Thomas Aquinas College is a private four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. This college is unique in that instead of offering a multitude of different major, minor and elective curriculums, the 389 students at Thomas Aquinas work toward a BA in liberal arts through a single, integrated curriculum. This college doesn’t receive any financial resources from church or state, so financial aid resources are limited but still available on the school’s basis of demonstrated financial need. The need-based financial aid review considers each family’s income, assets, size, number of students in college and more. Funds that support student grants and service scholarships are made available through benefactors’ contributions, which amount to about $3 million annually, making tuition affordable for 70 percent of the student body.

15. Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT

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Wesleyan University offers a financial aid package that is without loans to its students whose families earn less than $60,000 annually.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $20,490

Established in 1831, Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college, offering 45 majors, 17 minors and 12 certificates, all with an open curriculum. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Wesleyan gives its students the opportunity to complete a degree within just three years to help families save about 20 percent of the total cost of its BA degree. Three summer sessions at the university, combined with two AP, IB or A-level exam credits allow students to complete the degree requirements without taking on an extra course load during any semester. In 2017 alone, the university awarded more than $54,000,000 in need-based grants and scholarships to meet the needs of every admitted student, 46 percent of whom are recipients of these awards. About 51 percent of first-year students receive awards that equal or exceed the school’s tuition. The average net cost for families with an annual income below $30,000 is $5,905.

14. Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA

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At Wellesley College, the average financial aid award came in the form of gifts or scholarships from the college 95 percent of the time, which don’t have to be repaid.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $20,013

Founded in 1870, Wellesley College is a private women’s liberal arts college near Boston with 2,300 female students from all 50 states and 83 different countries. This small college offers an intimate 7:1 student-faculty ratio, more than 1,000 courses, 13 Division III athletic teams and a 500-acre picturesque campus with a lake. Wellesley claims to meet 100 percent of demonstrated student need, awarding over $65 million in the 2016-17 academic year to 60 percent of its students. On average that year, the annual financial aid award was more than $44,000, with lower-income families receiving as much as $57,842. Students can’t attend Wellesley for free, however; the school expects them to contribute at least $1,950 per year towards costs.

13. Duke University in Durham, NC

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All applicants for admissions at Duke University are automatically considered for any available merit scholarships based on the student’s academic and personal profile.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $19,950

Founded by Methodists and Quakers in 1838, Duke University is a private research university with a main campus of almost 9,000, as well as a medical school in Singapore, a second campus in China and study abroad programs from Russia to Peru. Within Duke’s 10 colleges and schools, students also have access to the Marine Laboratory, the 7,200-Duke Forest, the Nasher Museum of Art and the world’s largest colony of endangered primates in the Duke Lemur Center. Even with almost 15,000 total students, Duke’s student-faculty ratio is 8:1, and about five out of 10 undergraduates receive financial aid. The average need-based grant was nearly $42,345 during the 2014-15 academic year. Admissions at Duke is need-blind for American students, and once they’re admitted, Duke pledges to meet 100 percent of each student’s financial need in the form of grants, work study and limited student loans.

12. Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA

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About 99 percent of Swarthmore College’s full-time faculty have terminal degrees in their fields.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $19,641

Founded in 1864, Swarthmore College is a private, mostly liberal arts school located on a 425-acre arboretum campus less than 15 miles from Philadelphia. Swarthmore is a member of a tri-college consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and it offers cross-registration with the University of Pennsylvania. Its 1,620 students choose from more than 40 areas of study and benefit from a student teacher ratio of 8:1. About 95 percent of the student body lives in one of the 18 residence halls on campus, and 55 percent of students receive need-based aid from the college. These financial aid awards range from $1,000 to $67,060, and the average award is $46,681, given in the form of scholarships and student work study on campus.

11. Amherst College in Amherst, MA

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Amherst College’s campus is 1,000 acres and includes a wildlife sanctuary.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $19,055

A private liberal arts college founded in 1821, Amherst College is unique in that it doesn’t have distribution requirements or a core curriculum, just 850+ courses and 1,800 students. Among the most comprehensive financial aid programs in the nation, Amherst’s average yearly aid package is $50,255, and 55 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), Amherst has an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, 40 fields of study and a 14 percent admission rate. It operates on a no-loan policy for all financial aid recipients, and its admissions is need-blind for domestic and international students. About 80 percent of Amherst graduates report that they’ve gone on to attend graduate or professional school.

10. Yale University in New Haven, CT

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The average need-based scholarship that Yale awarded students during the 2016-17 academic year was $47,000.

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Student Retention Rate:
Net Cost: $18,319

Founded in 1701, Yale University is a private Ivy League research university and the third-oldest institute of higher education in the nation. Yale has 5,453 undergraduates and a student body that represents 118 different countries. Within the class of 2021, there are 250 first generation students, and the school awards an average student financial aid grant of $47,000. About 64 percent of Yale students receive some kind of financial aid, all awarded on a basis of financial need. The need-based Yale Scholarship varies from a few thousand dollars to over $65,000 per year. According to the school, hundreds of undergraduate families have an “expected parental contribution of $0.

9. Williams College in Williamstown, MA

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Williams College is one of a select group of American colleges that practice need-blind admissions for domestic applicants, including undocumented and DACA students.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $18,167

Established in 1793, Williams College is a private liberal arts school with about 2,000 students on its scenic campus in western Massachusetts’ Berkshires. One of our top 10 colleges, Williams houses the SMALL Summer Research Program for Undergraduates, which is one of the largest undergraduate math research programs in the country. More than 10 percent of every class graduates with degrees in mathematics, well over the national average. Williams’ average net cost for aided students hasn’t changed in 30 years, and according to the school, the median debt at graduation among students who borrow is about $13,000. According to Provost Will Dudley, “Today’s average aided family contributes a little less than $18,000 toward the $100,000 that Williams spends per student.”

8. Pomona College in Claremont, CA

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To determine need, Pomona College conducts a review of each family’s financial circumstances, claiming fair and individual judgement.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $18,140

Established in 1887, Pomona College is a private, nonsectarian liberal arts college located about 35 miles east of LA on a 140-acre campus. Pomona claims to meet full demonstrated need of its admitted students, who were accepted regardless of their ability to cover the cost. Pomona is the founding member of The Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven colleges and graduate schools, giving its students access to a wide variety of resources while still offering an 8:1 student-teacher ratio. Pomona’s approximately 1,640 students can choose from 48 different majors, and 67 percent of the student body receives some form of financial aid. Pomona personally funds 57 percent students’ need-based scholarships, leaving just 33 percent of graduating seniors to borrow from external providers to fund their education.

7. Princeton University in Princeton, NJ

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U.S. News & World Report and Money gave Princeton University the No. 1 spot on their lists of top colleges in the country.

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Student Retention Rate: 98%
Net Cost: $17,732

A private, Ivy League research university, Princeton University was founded in 1746 and currently enrolls 5,232 undergraduate students, 60 percent of whom receive financial aid. The average annual grant for the class of 2021 is $50,600, and 22 percent of the class is eligible for low-income federal grants. The student-faculty ratio is 5:1, and over 300 student organizations are on the 500-acre campus. About 82 percent of recent undergraduate seniors graduated their programs without any debt. For families who earn $65,000 or less, Princeton has covered the cost of tuition, room, board and the residential college fee. Money’s estimated average debt load for Princeton grads is $6,810 and its average post-aid price for low income students is $3,630.

6. Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC

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According to the American Council on Education, Salem College is the 13th oldest college in the United States.

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Student Retention Rate: 83%
Net Cost: $17,013

Founded in 1772, Salem College is a private, liberal arts college and the oldest continuously-operating educational institution for Women in the country. With an intimate 1,100 total student enrollment, Salem offers four undergraduate degree programs, a BA, BS, BM and BSBA, as well as two graduate degrees and four certificate programs. Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Salem’s student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 90 percent of professors have PhDs or terminal degrees in their field. This university offers financial aid to a significant number of students through need-based grants, low-interest loans, work-study programs, merit-based scholarships and payment plans.

5. Stanford University in Stanford, CA

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International students at Stanford University receive the same aid as those from the U.S., but the school has a limited amount to offer.

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Student Retention Rate:
Net Cost: $16,695

Opened in 1891, Stanford University is one of the most selective private research universities in America, has a need-blind admissions policy, enrolls just under 16,500 students and offers a 4:1 student-faculty ratio. Its campus consists of 8,180 contiguous acres, and its seven schools have 65 undergraduate degree programs and 90+ graduate fields of study. Students from families with incomes below $65,000 receive free tuition, room and board, and those with incomes below $125,000 still go to Stanford tuition-free. Over 80 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid, while about 82% of Stanford graduate students also receive some sort of assistance. For the Class of 2020, the average amount of scholarships and grants awarded to need-based recipients in the current freshman class is $51,614; about $49,896 of that comes directly from Stanford.

4. Harvard University in Cambridge, MA

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According to the school, 100 percent of Harvard College students have the chance to graduate debt-free.

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Student Retention Rate: 97%
Net Cost: $16,205

Established in 1636, Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university with one of the most prestigious reputations among American colleges. Harvard offers need-blind admission to its 20,000+ degree candidates within its 12 degree-granting schools and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The oldest institution of higher education in the country, Harvard’s undergraduate college extends its reach of financial aid for international students, which is the same as Americans. About 70 percent of students receive some form of aid, while 60 percent of students receive need-based scholarships and 20 percent of students’ families pay nothing. Those receiving need-based scholarships pay an average of $12,000 per year, but according to Money, the average price for low-income students after grant aid is $2,473, and the average student debt load is just $6,000.

3. University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA

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The University of Virginia claims to meet 100 percent of its students’ declared financial need in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study and need-based loans.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $15,945

The University of Virginia is a public research university, founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, UVA is comprised of the College at Wise in Southwest Virginia plus 11 schools in at the Charlottesville campus, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 28 years. Virginia enrolls nearly 22,000 students, all of whom were offered admission based on intellectual ability, academic achievement and personal qualities, regardless of their families’ financial situations. About 32 percent of students receive some level of need-based financial assistance, which are loans limited to an average of $4,500 per year for in-state students and $7,000 annually for nonresidents.

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC

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As of May 2017, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill created 21 need-based undergraduate awards and graduate fellowships after noteworthy “firsts” to honor those within the UNC community.

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Student Retention Rate: 96%
Net Cost: $10,077

Chartered in 1789, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a public research university among the 17 within the University of North Carolina system, and it’s situated in a beautiful classic college town. The nation’s first public university, UNC is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It offers 78 bachelor’s, 112 master’s, 68 doctorate and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools and the College of Arts and Sciences. UNC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. It has more than 29,000 students and it “meets all of the documented need of undergraduates who apply to financial aid on time.” The Carolina Covenant is a promise of debt-free education for low income students, and it has offered around 6,500 the chance to graduate without debt.

1. Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, CA

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Eligible admitted Soka University of America students, whose earned family income is $60,000 or less, can receive full tuition scholarships.

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Student Retention Rate: 94%
Net Cost: $12,686

Founded in 2001 on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, Soka University of America is a private, nonprofit liberal arts college offering 103-acre campus just three miles from the beach, an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, a 12-student average class size and generous financial aid for international students. Students at SUA can earn a bachelor of the arts degree with concentrations in environmental studies, humanities, international studies and social and behavioral sciences with a new concentration in life sciences coming Fall 2020, according to the school. Accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, it also has a graduate program in educational leadership and societal change. In the 2015-2016 academic year, UA awarded almost 14 millions dollars in the form of grants and scholarship to 100 percent of its students, both domestic and international.

Additional Sources:
U.S. News & World Report
Time’s Money
The College Solution
The Institute for College Access & Success