What Colleges Have the Best Financial Aid Available?

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 5/20/20

College-bound students like you need several types of financial aid to pay for your education.

Need-based grants, merit-based scholarships, work-study options, federal student loans, and even private student loans are all options you can gather as you complete your degree. When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, your school will send you information on the types of financial aid you qualify for.

When you apply to colleges, one metric you will likely use to narrow your choices is the overall cost. This includes tuition, the cost of living near the school or on campus, fees and books, and other related costs. While you don’t want to limit your education to only low-cost colleges or universities, you want to know that a good education won’t saddle you with insurmountable debt.

Many schools offer great financial aid packages, so even if their overall cost appears high, you can qualify for financial help. We’ve outlined some of the top colleges with the best financial aid programs in the United States. 

Top 10 Colleges With the Best Financial Aid Awards in 2019

The Princeton Review details several metrics of colleges and universities across the country. These include fire safety, student happiness and quality of life, admissions selectivity, academics, and financial aid amounts. Often, colleges with great financial aid packages have happy students, beautiful campuses, and other benefits.

Here are the latest top 10 colleges for financial aid awards

  1. Bowdoin College: This small college in Maine is very competitive to get into, and it offers significant amounts of financial aid to students in need. The grant budget is well endowed by alumni and donors, so 52% of enrolled students receive help paying for their education.

    The total annual cost is reported at $68,620, but with the average financial aid award clocking in at $44,824, the out-of-pocket cost is only $23,796.
  2. California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech): Colleges and universities across California are famous for offering high-quality postsecondary education. Cal Tech, located in Pasadena, offers a fantastic science and engineering division, and it offers access to Los Angeles institutions for graduate work, job opportunities, and more.

    The college reports that its overall cost is $64,704; however, the school awards $45,797, on average, to students in need, so the average out-of-pocket cost is only $18,907. Cal Tech also boasts that it meets 100% of student need, so if you attend and have any financial struggles, the school will help you.
  3. Colgate University: This is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, providing students with a high-quality, well-rounded humanities and sciences education. Students attending Colgate are reported among the happiest, and one reason for this is their access to financial aid to support their strong education.

    This upstate New York school reports its overall annual cost at $67,500. With the generous $48,369 for the average, not the total, need-based scholarship, many students pay only $19,131 out of pocket.
  4. Pomona College: This small, beautiful California school offers generous financial aid awards. The total overall cost per year is listed as $67,225, but the average financial aid package to the average student in need is $50,069. This means the out-of-pocket cost is one of the lowest, at $17,156.

    Pomona is a member of the Claremont Colleges, a collection of highly regarded small colleges around Los Angeles. While competition is tough to get into this college system, acceptance is need-blind, as Claremont is dedicated to socioeconomic diversity within their system.
  5. Princeton University: This Ivy League school offers a generous amount of help to students who need it. The total reported annual cost is $62,750, which is less expensive than many Ivy League schools. Their average financial aid package is an impressive $51,365, reducing the annual cost to just $11,385.

    Of course, the competition to get into Princeton is quite stiff, but once you get in, the school has eliminated all student loans for anyone who qualifies for need-based aid. This reduces the total cost of school even further. Graduates are less likely to be saddled with debt as they enter the workforce.
  6. Vanderbilt University: With a beautiful campus in Nashville, Tennessee, this smaller university reportedly distributes $42 million in financial aid to its students every year. While the overall annual price tag comes to $66,050, average financial aid packages are $47,294. This means your out-of-pocket cost would be around $18,756.

    Vanderbilt has three signature scholarships, each of which covers full tuition along with a stipend for summer research projects, study abroad programs, or service projects. These scholarships are renewable for four years of undergraduate study at the university.
  7. Vassar College: Located in picturesque Poughkeepsie, New York, Vassar is a renowned small college with a fantastic liberal arts education.

    It’s tough to get into the school, and the annual cost is $70,510 per year. With financial aid averaging $48,194 per year, your cost is likely to be around $22,316 annually.
  8. Washington University: This St. Louis-based college has a higher overall cost than many schools on financial aid lists, reporting their total annual education cost per year to be $69,839. However, the average need-based scholarship amount is $43,745, which reduces annual costs to $26,094.

    Washington University offers further help to students with significant financial need. The school has eliminated its need-based student loans program, ending the debt cycle for middle-income and low-income families. Instead, the school focuses on offering free money in the form of scholarships and grants.
  9. Williams College: Located in Massachusetts, this smaller school has a rigorous education program on par with Ivy League schools. Williams offers much better financial aid packages than many of its competitor universities.

    With a reported total annual cost of $69,950, it looks like it has an expensive price tag. However, the average need-based scholarship is an impressive $51,773, so the annual out-of-pocket cost for many students is only $18,177.

    Williams is dedicated to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for undergraduate students during their four years at the school.
  10. Yale University: One of the most famous Ivy League schools, Yale is also one of the most generous. The reported overall annual cost is $64,650, but with the average need-based awards totaling $47,960, the total average cost for students is only $16,690 each year.

    Yale states that they are committed to meeting 100% of student need. To meet this need, the school spends $140 million on student financial aid every year. About 10% of the student body in 2019 will have zero expected parental contribution.

Financial Aid Is One Important Metric for Choosing a Great College

Of course, there are several other measurements you can use to pick a school for your undergraduate or graduate education. For example, in 2019, Auburn University in Alabama reportedly had the happiest students on any campus in the nation. Other colleges in the South and Midwest also had happy student bodies, with Kansas State, Tulane University, and the University of Oklahoma also reporting satisfied attendees.

But being able to pay for high-quality education with less debt is an important metric for your personal success too. The top 10 colleges with the best financial aid packages offer rigorous academics, as well as help for students in need.