by Shannon Vasconcelos, former financial aid officer at Tufts University
For rising high school seniors who are finalizing their college lists—or juniors who are just starting to get serious about their college search—one feature you may be looking for in a college is generosity. Specifically, how generous is a college with their need-based financial aid programs?
To help you in answering that question, we have gathered data from the College Board and individual college websites to provide this list of U.S. colleges that are most generous with need-based financial aid. These colleges guarantee that they will make every effort to meet the full calculated financial need of just about every student they accept, or they at least did so for the last academic year. Financial need is defined as the college’s cost of attendance minus the student’s expected family contribution, as determined by the college (i.e. what they think you can pay, not what you think you can pay). Essentially, if one of these colleges accepts you, they will use their institutional funding to bring their net price to a level that they determine is affordable to your family, based on your family’s finances. Note that some of these colleges may impose some limitations on this generosity, such as only meeting the need of domestic—not international—applicants, and may meet some of a student’s need with loans and/or work-study funding.
You will see that a common denominator among these colleges is that they tend to be very selective, and we are not in any way suggesting that you limit your college search to this list of schools. Other colleges may provide YOU with substantial financial aid, especially if you meet their institutional goals (academically, extracurricularly, demographically, etc.)—they simply do not guarantee that they will be so generous with every student they accept. Also note that the below colleges are particularly generous with need-based financial aid, but may not be so forth-coming with merit-based scholarships. In fact, many colleges on this list provide no merit scholarships whatsoever. The most effective strategy for maximizing merit scholarships is to apply to colleges where you will stand out in the applicant pool—colleges where you are well above average and are likely to be heavily recruited.
Note that this list of colleges that meet full need is not necessarily exhaustive, nor, at the time of your reading, current. The coronavirus pandemic and its fallout has posed serious financial challenges for universities, and there is no guarantee that all of these schools will be able to keep up their generous financial aid policies. For the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about a school’s awarding policy, always refer directly to that college’s website.
Colleges that Meet 100% Financial Need: