Personal Finance

The top 10 colleges for financial aid

Key Points
  • This year, more than ever, paying for college is a huge worry for students and their parents. 
  • Some schools are responding with more generous financial aid packages. 
  • These schools are doling out the most aid to offset the cost, according to The Princeton Review’s new 2021 ranking.
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In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, college affordability is a top concern.

Roughly two-thirds of parents of college-bound students now say they are more worried about paying for their child's education, according to a report by Discover Student Loans.

More than half of parents also said their child's college plans have changed due to Covid-19, Discover found. By necessity, some students will attend a school closer to homedelay going to college or choose a less expensive public, rather than private, college.  

In addition, families will need to rely on financial aid even more than before.

"Don't assume that just because a school has a high sticker cost it's not affordable," said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review's editor-in-chief and author of "The Best 386 Colleges."

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When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, he added. "Even though an in-state school may have a lower initial sticker cost, it doesn't mean that private schools could not be the most affordable."

Yes, annual tuition plus room and board at four-year, private universities is much higher —  $49,870 in 2019-20  — compared to public institutions — at just $21,950 — according to the College Board.

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

Net price: Your net price is 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 2019 through spring 2020.

Here are the 10 best schools for financial aid, according to The Princeton Review:

10. Denison University

Denison University
Source: Denison University

Location: Granville, Ohio 
Tuition, fees, room and board: $66,880
Average need-based scholarship: $41,138
Out-of-pocket cost: $25,742

This small liberal arts school makes a big promise to its undergraduates affected by the pandemic: Regardless of the impacts of Covid-19, Denison meets 100% of a student's demonstrated need. "We are committed to ensuring the most competitive and accurate financial aid package is offered," the school says. 

9. College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic
Source: College of the Atlantic

Location: Bar Harbor, Maine 
Tuition, fees, room and board: $53,289
Average need-based scholarship: $36,091
Out-of-pocket cost:  $17,198

As members of this small community on Maine's Mount Desert Island, students benefit from the school's stunning remote location and its deep commitment to affordability. In addition, COA provides each undergrad with up to $1,800 to support expeditionary learning. 

8. Thomas Aquinas College

Thomas Aquinas College
Source: Thomas Aquinas College

Location: Santa Paula, California
Tuition, fees, room and board:  $35,400
Average need-based scholarship:  $14,019
Out-of-pocket cost:  $21,381

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 consideration. 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 over $20,000 a year — about the same cost as a public college, on average.

7. Rice University

Rice University
Craig Hartley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Location: Houston
Tuition, fees, room and board: $63,252
Average need-based scholarship: $48,300
Out-of-pocket cost:  $14,952

For those who qualify, the Rice Investment will meet all demonstrated need without any loans. Further, students with family incomes below $65,000 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.

6. Reed College

Reed College
JerryPDX | iStock | Getty Images

Location: Portland, Oregon
Tuition, fees, room and board: $73,060
Average need-based scholarship: $39,913
Out-of-pocket cost: $33,147

Although some families may be deterred by the very high sticker price at this small school in Portland, Reed will meet 100% of the demonstrated need of all admitted students for all four years. In fact, over half of the students here receive need-based aid and there are also many on- and off-campus jobs available.

5. 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. For students who qualify, Bowdoin grants range from $1,200 to $73,800 and aid packages are loan-free. 

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4. Washington University in St. Louis

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

Location: St. Louis
Tuition, fees, room and board:  $74,788
Average need-based scholarship: $50,725
Out-of-pocket cost: $24,063

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.

3. Grinnell College

Grinnell College
Photo: Grinnell

Location: Grinnell, Iowa
Tuition, fees, room and board: $70,544
Average need-based scholarship: $45,482
Out-of-pocket cost: $25,062

This is a small college with the resources of a school 10 times its size, according to the admissions office. As a result, a stunning 86% of students receive aid to help pay for their education. The average need-based scholarship for undergraduates is more than $45,000, which brings the net price to just about $25,000.

2. Williams College

Williams College
John Greim | LightRocket | Getty Images

Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts 
Tuition, fees, room and board: $74,350
Average need-based scholarship: $56,788
Out-of-pocket cost: $17,562

One of the best liberal arts colleges in the country is practically hidden in a remote part of western Massachusetts. However, students who find a pathway to Williams graduate with a top education and very little college debt. Often aid packages are entirely made up of grants and work study opportunities — and don't include any loans. 

1. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt | Collegiate Images | Getty Images

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Tuition, fees, room and board: $69,816
Average need-based scholarship: $52,242
Out-of-pocket cost: $17,574

Vanderbilt's financial aid packages do not include any loans at all or income cut-offs that limit eligibility. 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.

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