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 2020 ranking.
  • The top 10 are all private and many have sky-high sticker prices, yet their very generous aid packages make them surprisingly affordable.
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These days college affordability is a huge concern, and as a result, more students and their families are wary of applying to pricey private schools.

That is a mistake.

Yes, annual tuition and fees plus room and board at four-year, private universities is much higher — $49,870, on average — compared to public institutions — at $21,950 — 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.

"If you are concerned about taking on too much debt, you are not alone," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "The Best Value Colleges."

"But the truth is, there are many, many schools that are making college affordable," he said.

When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, Franek said.

"That hefty sticker cost might be intimidating but find out the average cost that students and parents are actually paying," Franek said. "It could end up being less expensive than your local 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 eye-popping list prices, including tuition, fees, room and board, yet their very generous aid packages make them surprisingly affordable.

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

10. Rice University

Rice University
Craig Hartley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Location: Houston, Texas
Sticker price: $63,252
Average need-based scholarship: $43,174
Total out-of-pocket cost: $20,078

This private research university in Houston was originally founded as a tuition-free institution and it remains committed to affordability. 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.

9. Yale University

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

Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Sticker price: $72,100
Average need-based scholarship: $56,602
Total 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 $140 million on financial aid each year. The average scholarship award is around $50,000 and more than 10% of the student body will pay nothing at all next year. For the 6% that get accepted, that's a huge win.

8. 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
Sticker price: $68,620
Average need-based scholarship: $47,522
Total out-of-pocket cost: $21,098

This small liberal arts college on the coast of Maine is a triple threat: highly competitive, picturesque and price-sensitive. In fact, the school stopped using loans in their financial aid packages over a decade ago, replacing them with grants instead. Now, nearly half of the student body receives aid and the average scholarship is nearly $50,000.

7. Washington University in St. Louis

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

Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Sticker price: $72,192
Average need-based scholarship: $47,335
Total out-of-pocket cost: $24,857

At first glance, Wash U. is 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.

6. Grinnell College

Younker Hall on the campus of Grinnell College.
Wolterk | Getty Images

Location: Grinnell, Iowa
Sticker price: $67,646
Average need-based scholarship: $43,783
Total 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 school is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need. The average need-based scholarship for incoming freshmen is close to $45,000 and about 86% of first-year students receive some form of aid.

5. Williams College

Williams College
John Greim | LightRocket | Getty Images

Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts
Sticker price: $72,270
Average need-based scholarship: $55,621
Total out-of-pocket cost: $16,649

While the total price at this top school comes to over $72,000 a year, Williams guarantees that it will meet 100% of a student's financial need for all four years, including course materials, books and even the costs to study abroad.

4. Pomona College

Pomona College
Source: Wikipedia

Location: Claremont, California
Sticker price: $71,980
Average need-based scholarship: $53,123
Total out-of-pocket cost: $18,857

As a member of the Claremont Colleges, a group of highly regarded schools just outside of Los Angeles, Pomona's need-blind admissions policy stands apart. The school meets 100% of students' financial need with packages that consist entirely of grants, scholarships and work-study.

3. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt | Collegiate Images | Getty Images

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Sticker price: $68,980
Average need-based scholarship: $49,076
Total out-of-pocket cost: $19,904

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.

2. Princeton University

Blair Hall at Princeton University
John Greim | Loop Images | Getty Images

Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Sticker price: $62,750
Average need-based scholarship: $51,365
Total 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 was one of the first schools to eliminate 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.

1. Vassar College

Vasser College
Allan Montaine | Getty Images

Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Sticker price: $68,110
Average need-based scholarship: $49,190
Total out-of-pocket cost: $18,920

Vassar is one of most expensive colleges in the country and also one of the most generous. With a need-blind admission policy, Vassar awards more than $69 million in scholarships and more than 60% of its students receive financial aid. Further, the average scholarship is nearly $50,000, making this top liberal arts school with a stunning campus harder to get in to than afford.

More from Personal Finance:
Here's what it takes to get into a top college
Applying to college early isn't always the best move
Here's what attending a top college is worth

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