With the cost of tuition seemingly always on the rise, financial aid packages could make or break a student’s ability to afford higher education. That’s why, even if an institution’s tuition costs seem quite high, the type of financial aid packages the same institution offers might actually turn it into a more affordable option.
Based on a report by LendEDU, the cost of college has doubled in the last 20 years. Now more than ever, it's important for college-bound students to fully understand the different types of financial aid and what they offer.
The following list of 25 United States colleges with the best financial aid packages is based on the idea that, while any financial aid can help, not all financial aid is created equal.
For example, some colleges mostly offer the possibility of student loans for need-based students, which does not necessarily set students up for a financially-sound future. Some loans have very high interest rates, and students will end up paying those loans off over decades.
The best financial aid packages usually include some combination of grants and scholarships, which come from the government and the institution itself, and do not require students to pay the money back. Other great financial aid packages do require some loans but cap them at a certain amount of money per academic year.
That said, here are the top 25 colleges in the United States when it comes to great financial aid packages. Most of these colleges are also need-blind, which means that a student’s financial situation has no bearing on admission.
Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts has a need-blind admissions process. And, according to the school’s website, nearly 60% of students who go to Amherst receive financial aid.
Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine is another college with a need-blind admissions process, and its website suggests that nearly half of enrolled students actually receive grant assistance to attend.
Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island offers a high amount of need-based financial aid. In fact, the average need-based award for the Class of 2022 at Brown was $50,108.
Colby College in Waterville, Maine explains on its website that the financial aid packages they offer meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need in order to make education available for students from every background. Students must complete an application each year to record any changes in their financial situation.
Columbia University in New York, New York has a need-blind admissions process and does not expect parents to contribute to the cost of tuition for students coming from families with less than $60,000 in annual calculated total income (and typical assets).
Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire offers free tuition for students from families with total incomes (and typical assets) of $100,000 or less and does not require loans in that financial aid offer. Students who come from families with total incomes of more than $100,000 per year do still receive scholarship assistance. Students at Dartmouth have the lowest total debt in the country.
Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina has a need-blind admissions process, and about 51% of students receive need-based aid.
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina also has a need-blind admissions process and does not require any loans with need-based grants if students come from a family with less than $40,000 in annual income. After that, the financial aid program works on a sliding scale.
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts offers need-based scholarships to 55% of students, and one in five students (20%) pays nothing at all to attend.
Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania commits to meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated need and offers financial aid without loans as long as students come from families with less than $60,000 in annual income. Students from families with higher annual incomes only face loan expectations ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.
Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania caps loans at $5,000 per academic year no matter how much a student’s family makes in annual income. Students with a family income of less than $75,000 receive aid without any loan expectations.
MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts has a need-blind admissions process and financial aid without any loan expectations for students with a family income of less than $90,000. According to MIT’s website, 31% of its students attend tuition-free, and 76% of 2019 graduates left with no student loan debt.
As of the 2019-2020 academic year, all financial aid packages from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois are loan-free, meaning packages will only include work-study options and grants.
Pomona College in Claremont, California has a need-blind admissions process, and 57% of its students receive need-based scholarship aid.
Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey also has a need-blind admissions process, and according to its website, the average grant covers 100% of tuition.
Rice University in Houston, Texas offers full-tuition grants for students from families with annual incomes between $65,001 and $130,000 and full-tuition grants for students with family incomes below $65,000. Students who come from families with annual incomes over $130,000 receive half-tuition grants.
Stanford University in Stanford, California has a need-blind admissions process, and about 58% of students receive financial aid from Stanford, which includes athletic scholarships.
Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania also has a need-blind admissions process, and during the 2018-2019 academic year, 56% of students received financial aid.
The University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois also offers a need-blind admissions process. According to its website, the university offers free tuition for families with annual incomes under $125,000 (with typical assets) and free tuition, feed, and room and board for students who come from families with annual incomes (with typical assets) of less than $60,000.
At UNC Chapel Hill, students from North Carolina who come from low-income households have the opportunity to qualify for aid without loans through the Carolina Covenant.
The University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana has a need-blind admission process. In 2019, the median need-based scholarship awarded to first-year students was $42,600.
The average aid package for students who attended University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 2018-2019 academic year was $53,943.
The University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia has a need-blind admissions process, and all first-year applicants are considered for merit-based aid that could include full-tuition scholarships and several different interest-based programs.
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee also offers a need-blind admissions process, and more than 60% of students received financial aid from one or more sources in 2017-2018.
At Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, admissions are need-blind, and no or limited loans are available for low-income families. According to its website, Vassar meets 100% of the full demonstrated need of all admitted students, whether they are international or domestic, for all four years of college.