With the cost of higher education expensive and continuing to rise, it makes sense to ask which are the best colleges for financial aid. The sad fact is that tuition has risen about 6% above the rate of inflation over the long term. According to 2015 figures from the Princeton Review, if Harvard’s tuition rate had tracked inflation since 1971, it would have cost a student $15,189 in 2015 instead of $45,278. These trends have left students reevaluating college. Is it worth the investment? Are the much cheaper state schools a better choice than their private-school counterparts? (For more, see Types of Financial Aid and College Loans.)

Which Are the Best Colleges for Financial Aid?

While state schools shouldn’t be discounted, some private colleges offer so much financial aid to students that the cost of attending them becomes much more affordable – often close to public school tuition. Here are five such institutions.

Princeton University

Tuition comes in at $45,320 for this Ivy League university. Add to that room and board and other expenses, and you’re going to pay $63,690 for a single year. That said, once a student is admitted, Princeton meets 100% of a student’s needs-based financial aid. Only 18% of undergraduates take out student loans, with the average debt per graduate only $8,908. Even outside of needs-based financial aid, the average scholarship/grant package is approximately $48,000, bringing the yearly tuition down to about what you would pay for a state school.

Stanford University

Total tuition will set students back $62,541 this year, but much like Princeton, if you make it in you’re not going to pay nearly that much. For parents who earn less than $65,000 a year, Stanford doesn’t expect any parental contribution, and for parents who make below $125,000, all tuition charges are covered. Only 22% of undergrads have to borrow money, with an average student loan bill of $21,238 upon graduation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Expect to pay around $61,000 for a year at MIT, but also expect to receive scholarships. About 75% of students receive some form of aid, and 62% of undergrads qualify for needs-based scholarships, with the average amount upwards of $32,000 and the average needs-based award nearly $40,000. Thirty-two percent of undergrads take out loans, with the average student loan debt around $24,954 after graduation. 

Harvey Mudd College

Only 829 people attend Harvey Mudd College. With tuition being $69,717 annually, that’s a bit of sticker shock, but as with all the schools on our list, there’s plenty of aid available. The average needs-based scholarship is $39,799, and some students report receiving a full scholarship. Eighty-two percent of students qualify for financial aid, and 40% get merit-based awards. Merit- and needs-based scholarships can be combined. About 42% of undergrads take out student loans, with the average debt upon graduation around $25,412. As the average student loan debt among private schools is about $32,000, students are still well below it upon graduation. 

California Institute of Technology

If you live on campus, expect to pay about $63,000 for a year at Caltech, but, with a $2.1 billion endowment fund as of 2015, scholarships are plentiful. The average needs-based scholarship comes in at nearly $41,901, and awards meet 100% of demonstrated student need. The maximum loan expectation is only $5,500. Although 33% of students take out loans, the average balance at graduation is $18,219.

The Bottom Line

You’ve heard for years that the most affordable schools are state schools. While that’s generally true, if you get an acceptance letter from any of the colleges above, it won’t be hard to get your tuition down to what you would pay for a state institution. Not all private schools have such generous scholarship programs, however. Before committing to a school, talk to its aid department about the help you can expect. (For more, see 5 Ways to Get Maximum Student Financial Aid.)




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