Personal Finance

The top 10 colleges for financial aid

Key Points
  • Here are the schools that are doling out the most aid to offset the cost of college, according to The Princeton Review’s new 2020 ranking.
  • The top 10 are all private and many have sky-high tuition prices, yet their very generous aid packages tell a different story.
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With college affordability a big worry, most families are wary of having kids apply to pricey private schools.

That is a mistake.

Yes, annual tuition plus room and board at four-year, private universities is much higher — $48,510, on average — compared to public institutions — at just $21,370 — in the current academic year, according to the College Board.

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

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

"Never cross an expensive school off of your list of consideration because of sticker price," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "The Best 385 Colleges."

When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, he added. "The truth is, it could end up being less expensive than public college."

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 2018 through summer 2019.

The top schools for financial aid are all private and have sky-high sticker prices, yet their very generous aid packages make them surprisingly affordable.

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

10. Gettysburg College

Brua Hall at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Edwin Remsburg | VW Pics | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Tuition, fees, room and board: $69,850
Average need-based scholarship: $37,831
Out-of-pocket cost: $32,019

Founded in 1832, this historic institution is not only committed to generous financial aid offerings but students are also highly employable after getting a diploma from Gettysburg, further easing the burden of student loan debt. In fact, 98% of the most recent alums are either employed or enrolled in graduate school one year after graduation, according to the school.

9. Vassar College

Vassar College
prichman38 | Flickr

Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Tuition, fees, room and board: $68,110
Average need-based scholarship: $49,190
Out-of-pocket cost: $18,920

Vassar is one of most expensive colleges in the country and also one of the most generous. The average scholarship is nearly $50,000, making this top liberal arts school with a stunning campus harder to get in to than afford.

8. Thomas Aquinas College

Thomas Aquinas College
Source: Thomas Aquinas College

Location: Santa Paula, California
Tuition, fees, room and board: $34,400
Average need-based scholarship: $14,552
Out-of-pocket cost: $19,848

This very small Catholic school outside of Los Angeles is not for every college-bound senior but, with a rolling campus, favorable student-to-teacher ratio and generous aid packages, it could be worth a look. The school funds 100% of demonstrated need for all students, first with an on-campus job and then with a grant that does not need to be repaid. Undergrads here are out of pocket just under $20,000 a year, on average — less than it would cost to attend a public college in many places.

7. Grinnell College

Grinnell College
Photo: Grinnell

Location: Grinnell, Iowa
Tuition, fees, room and board: $67,646
Average need-based scholarship: $43,783
Out-of-pocket cost: $23,863

Grinnell is a college with the resources of a school 10 times its size, according to the admissions office. As a result, the average need-based scholarship for incoming freshmen is over $45,000, which brings the net price to under $24,000.

6. Rice University

Rice University
Craig Hartley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Location: Houston, Texas
Tuition, fees, room and board: $63,252
Average need-based scholarship: $43,174
Out-of-pocket cost: $20,078

Last year, this private research university in Houston unveiled a new initiative to make higher education more affordable. Students with family incomes below $65,000 now receive grant aid covering not only full tuition but also fees and room and board. Students with family incomes between $65,000 and $130,000 receive full-tuition scholarships and those with family incomes between $130,000 and $200,000 get scholarships covering at least half of their tuition, according to the school.

5. Yale University

Yale University campus
Topic Images Inc. | Getty Images

Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Tuition, fees, room and board: $72,100
Average need-based scholarship: $56,602
Out-of-pocket cost: $15,498

This Ivy puts its money where its mouth is: Committed to meeting 100% of each applicant's demonstrated need, Yale spends more than $100 million on financial aid each year. For the 6% that get accepted, that's a huge win.

4. Princeton University

Blair Hall at Princeton University
John Greim/LOOP IMAGES | Getty Images

Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Tuition, fees, room and board: $62,750
Average need-based scholarship: $51,365
Out-of-pocket cost: $11,385

This is another elite Ivy League school that makes the top of many college lists. 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 and, as of the latest tally, nearly two-thirds of students receive grant aid.

3. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St Louis
Christopher A. Jones | Getty Images

Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Tuition, fees, room and board: $72,192
Average need-based scholarship: $47,335
Out-of-pocket cost: $24,857

At first glance, Wash U. is another one of the pricier schools on The Princeton Review list. However, it is similarly committed to helping defray the cost without relying on loan debt. For starters, it has eliminated need-based loans to students from low- and middle-income families, which means that those dollars never have to be paid back.

2. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt | Collegiate Images | Getty Images

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Tuition, fees, room and board: $66,850
Average need-based scholarship: $49,076
Out-of-pocket cost: $17,774

Vanderbilt's financial aid packages do not include loans. In addition to gift assistance, the school 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.

1. Bowdoin College

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

Location: Brunswick, Maine
Tuition, fees, room and board: $68,620
Average need-based scholarship: $47,522
Out-of-pocket cost: $21,098

This small college on the coast of Maine is a triple threat: highly competitive, picturesque and price-sensitive. In fact, nearly half of the college's endowment of $1.63 billion is restricted to support students' financial need.

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