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The top 10 colleges for financial aid

  • Here are the schools that are doling out the most aid to offset the cost of college, according to The Princeton Review's 2018 ranking.
  • The top 10 are all private, many of which have sky-high tuition prices, but their very generous aid packages tell a different story.

When it comes to college, most families assume public schools are far more affordable. That's only partly true.

At public, four-year institutions, costs for the 2017-18 school year hit $20,770, according to the College Board. Tuition plus room and board at four-year private universities was much higher: $47,000, on average, in the current academic year.

However, about two-thirds of all full-time students receive aid, which can bring the sticker price significantly down.

Your net price is a college's tuition and fees minus grants, scholarships and education tax benefits, according to the College Board.

To that end, The Princeton Review ranked colleges by how much financial aid is awarded and how satisfied students are with their packages. The report is based on data collected from fall 2016 through summer 2017.

The schools that fared the best were all private schools, many of which have sky-high prices, but very generous aid packages.

"We look at sticker price but also academics and financial aid. And that's really where the value comes in," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "Colleges That Pay You Back."

When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, he added. "These schools have been very clear about their commitment to making college costs affordable and giving out massive amounts of aid to students and families that need it."

Here are the schools that made The Princeton Review's top 10:

10. Colgate University

Colgate University, with Taylor Lake in the foreground, is shown in Hamilton, N.Y.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Colgate University, with Taylor Lake in the foreground, is shown in Hamilton, N.Y.

Location: Hamilton, N.Y.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $67,500
Average need-based scholarship: $45,724
Out-of-pocket cost: $21,776

Students here have a healthy dose of school spirit, with good reason: Colgate is one of the best liberal arts schools in the country even though it has very high tuition. Still, students receive over $45,000 in grant aid, on average, making it a much more affordable place to matriculate.

9. Yale University

The Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut.
Craig Warga | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Sterling Memorial Library on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut.

Location: New Haven, Conn.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $66,900
Average need-based scholarship: $47,960
Out-of-pocket cost: $18,940

This Ivy puts its money where its mouth is: Committed to meeting 100 percent of each applicant's demonstrated need, Yale spends more than $100 million on student financial aid each year. As a result, more than 10 percent of the student body will have $0 expected parent contribution in 2018.

8. Vassar College

Source: Vassar College

Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $68,060
Average need-based scholarship: $45,109
Out-of-pocket cost: $22,951

Vassar is one of most expensive colleges in the country but also one of the most generous. The average scholarship is just over $45,000, making the total cost less than $23,000 for a top liberal arts school with a stunning campus.

7. Princeton University

Students walking to classes at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
Barry Winiker | Getty Images
Students walking to classes at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Location: Princeton, N.J.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $60,090
Average need-based scholarship: $47,497
Out-of-pocket cost: $12,593

This elite Ivy League school makes the top of many college lists, but it's also highly regarded for its war on student debt. Princeton has eliminated all loans for students who qualify for aid. Instead, awards come in the form of grants that do not need to be repaid.

6. Pomona College

Pomona College
Ted Soqui | Corbis | Getty Images
Pomona College

Location: Claremont, Calif.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $67,225
Average need-based scholarship: $41,443
Out-of-pocket cost: $25,782

As a member of the Claremont Colleges, a group of highly regarded schools just outside of Los Angeles, admission to Pomona is tough but also need-blind. The goal is to achieve "significant socio-economic diversity," according to Adam Sapp, Pomona's senior associate dean and director of admissions.

5. Washington University in St. Louis

Stephen Ehlers | Getty Images

Location: St. Louis, Mo.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $67,539
Average need-based scholarship: $40,509
Out-of-pocket cost: $27,030

At first glance, Wash U. is another one of the pricier schools on Princeton Review's list but it is similarly committed to helping defray the cost without relying on loan debt. For starters, all aid to families earning $75,000 or less a year is grant-based, which means it does not have to be paid back.

4. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Source: Cooper Union
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Location: New York, N.Y.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $61,370
Average need-based scholarship: $15,394*
Out-of-pocket cost: $45,976

In the heart of New York City is a small school making a big promise to provide an affordable education. Aside from the aid available to help cover housing, food, books and supplies at Cooper Union, all students receive a half-tuition scholarship worth over $20,000 a year*.

3. Vanderbilt University

General view of the Benson Science Hall on the campus of the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tennessee.
Vanderbilt | Collegiate Images | Getty Images
General view of the Benson Science Hall on the campus of the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tennessee.

Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $60,572
Average need-based scholarship: $41,331
Out-of-pocket cost: $19,241

In addition to gift assistance, Nashville's Vanderbilt is known for its three signature scholarships which all cover full tuition and offer summer stipends to study abroad, complete service projects or conduct research. And they are renewable for all four years of college.

2. Williams College

Chapin Hall at Williams College
Barry Winiker | Getty Images
Chapin Hall at Williams College

Location: Williamstown, Mass.
Tuition, fees, room and board: $67,700
Average need-based scholarship: $48,885
Out-of-pocket cost: $18,815

One of the nation's very best schools also gets extremely high marks for its ability to finance its students' educations. The school meets 100 percent of demonstrated need for all undergrads for all four years.

1. Bowdoin College 

Joshua Chamberlain statue at the entrance to the Bowdoin campus in Brunswick, Maine.
Gregory Rec | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images
Joshua Chamberlain statue at the entrance to the Bowdoin campus in Brunswick, Maine.

Location: Brunswick, Maine
Tuition, fees, room and board: $65,980
Average need-based scholarship: $42,206
Out-of-pocket cost: $23,774

At No. 1, this small college on the coast of Maine is a triple threat: highly competitive, picturesque and price sensitive. The school's well-endowed grant budget, coupled with work study and other scholarship and grant opportunities means that more than half, or 52 percent, of enrolled students receive need-based aid.

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