The current statistics related to student debt are troubling. According to American Student Assistance, roughly 20 million men and women attended college in the U.S. each year — and roughly 60% of these individuals (12 million) must borrow financial aid to cover tuition, residence fees, and other academic costs. There are currently 37 million Americans with outstanding college debt, more than half of which are younger than 39 years of age; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that together these borrowers carry roughly $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
Fortunately, many higher-learning institutions offer financial aid packages that include scholarships, grants, work study programs, and other forms of assistance that do not need to be repaid; these packages allow students to receive an education and pursue a successful career without accruing large amounts of loan debt.
This list ranks the best U.S. colleges and universities in terms of financial aid packages that serve students whose family income falls below $48,000 per year. Our goal with this list is to create a resource that financially-strapped students can use to determine which school will best provide the assistance they need in order to receive an advanced education.
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University of Texas - Pan American
UTPA offers a wide selection of scholarships that fall into four categories: endowments, institutional funds, grants and contracts, and state scholarships; students can also browse a list of links for private scholarships on the school’s website. Students are welcome to apply online for these awards; the deadline for all scholarships is January 15. UTPA also maintains an extensive list of work-study opportunities (with contact information).
California State University - Dominguez Hills
Cal State Dominguez Hills offers four premier scholarships; the Presidential Scholarship covers full tuition for recipients, while the other three scholarships award between $2,000 and $4,000 per year. An additional 32 scholarships are exclusively available to Dominguez Hills students, and another eight scholarships are reserved for students attending any school within the CSU system. A list of more than 70 scholarships provided by private businesses and organizations (many of which are reserved for local residents, certain academic majors, or members of specific minority groups) is available on the CSUDH website.
University of North Texas
UNT offers two institutional grants, the merit-based Emerald Eagle Scholars award and the need-based UNT Tuition Grant; students who attend the university may also be eligible for three state grants. The UNT website also lists 19 scholarships, many of which are reserved for freshmen, transfer students, certain academic majors, veterans, and other specific groups. Students who demonstrate financial need may also apply for a work-study program; the maximum award for these programs is $4,000 per academic year.
California State University - Los Angeles
Cal State Los Angeles offers six department-specific scholarships, as well as 20 scholarships funded through private companies and organizations (most of which are reserved for California natives) and five Emeriti Fellowships. CSULA students are also eligible to receive Cal A or Cal B grants (both of which provide an annual stipend to students with demonstrated financial need).
CUNY Lehman College
CUNY Lehman students with demonstrated financial need may qualify for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), a New York state-funded program for full-time learners. If financial aid from TAP is still insufficient, students may additionally apply for another state-funded tuition assistance program, City University Student Tuition Assistance (CUSTA). The university also offers two merit-based scholarships and two tax credits for students and their families.
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
In addition to federal grants and the aforementioned TAP, students at CUNY John Jay may apply for the Academic Competitiveness Grant (which awards $2,000 during the first two years of undergraduate education) and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grant (which awards $4,000 for both the third and fourth years of study). A handful of scholarships are also available forundergraduate and graduate students enrolled at the university.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
The Louisiana Go Grant awards as much as $3,000 per year to students who demonstrate financial need. UL Lafayette students may also qualify for a Louisiana Tuition Opportunity for Students (TOPS) scholarship, which annually provides between $1,963 and $2,363 for recipients. The university also offers scholarships for institutional scholarships. Current students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher may also be eligible for the LSU Foundation Award, the amount of which will vary from year to year.
CUNY Queens College
In addition to 11 foundational scholarships and the Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship (a paid summer internship), Queens College students may also apply for New York State grant programs (such as TAP). Another option is the SEEK program, which is geared toward high school graduates who might not attend college without financial assistance. Students can also apply online for work-study programs facilitated by the university.
CUNY Brooklyn College
CUNY Brooklyn offers two institutional grants: the Zicklin Summer Fellowship, which is reserved for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and awards up to $2,500 per recipient (preference is given to veterans and disabled students); and the Petrie Emergency Grant, which awards up to $1,500 to students facing short-term financial constraints due to family illness, uninsured medical treatment, or other extenuating circumstances. The university also offers several scholarships, some of which are reserved for minority students, non-U.S. citizens, and top academic performers.
California State University - Fresno
Graduate students pursuing degrees in the fields of criminology, creative writing, or viticulture and enology may be eligible for fellowships that award full tuition for both years of their respective program. The university also awards more than 1,000 scholarships that collectively total more than $3.8 million dollars; individual awards vary from $100 to $35,000 (or full tuition), and are available for students at all levels.
Northern Kentucky University
Northern Kentucky offers scholarship opportunities for incoming freshmen, transfer students, Native American enrollees, and students affiliated with the Army ROTC program. Additionally, the school lists nearly 60 scholarships made possible through foundational funds or donations from private companies and organizations; many are reserved for specific academic majors or members of minority groups. The university also offers three institutional grants: the Northern Difference, the Strive NKU Promise Program, and the Freshman/Sophomore Grant Program.
University of Texas at El Paso
UTEP Promise is a grant program that provides full tuition for all four years for undergraduates who demonstrate significant financial need (family income of $30,000 or less). The university also lists four merit-based institutional scholarships that award between $12,000 and $24,000 per recipient, as well as scholarships for valedictorians, graduate students, and non-U.S. students.
CUNY Baruch College
CUNY Baruch College offers more than 100 merit- and need-based institutional scholarships for undergraduate students; roughly $1 million in financial aid is disbursed to more than 350 students each year. In addition, the school’s website features an extensive collection of external scholarships and fellowships, as well as a list of scholarships and fellowships with deadlines in the following two months.
CUNY City College
CUNY City College offers 16 institutional scholarships, the majority of which are merit-based and reserved for specific academic majors; the floating deadline for most of these scholarships is March 15. Additionally, the CCNY New Era Scholarship is available for freshmen who scored in the 75th percentile on their SAT exam. Incoming and continuing students can apply for scholarships online.
University of North Florida
There are merit-based and need-based scholarships. More scholarship opportunities are available to international students, U.S. students who study abroad, first-generation collegiates from Florida, and graduate-level learners.
California State University - Fullerton
Cal State Fullerton offers 11 departmental scholarships associated with student organizations and academic majors. In addition, 39 institutional scholarships are available to enrolled students regardless of their field of study; many are reserved for students who demonstrate financial need and/or belong to certain minority groups. The university’s website features a timetable of important financial aid deadlines.
California State University - San Bernardino
Introduced for the 2014-15 year, the California Middle Class Scholarship is designed to provide tuition assistance to students whose family income is too high to qualify for federal grants, but still too low to finance an accredited degree program without outside support. Cal State San Bernardino students can apply for additional scholarships and fellowships using the school’s online financial aid portal.
CUNY Hunter College
In addition to the federal and state-sponsored financial aid opportunities available at all branches of CUNY, enrolled students are welcome to apply for more than 100 private and governmental scholarships honored at Hunter College. The school’s website also lists five college study programs with financial stipends and a guide to grants and loans specifically geared toward international students.
CUNY College of Staten Island
Incoming CUNY Staten Island students are encouraged to submit an online scholarship application; depending on background and current financial status, an applicant may qualify for a merit- or need-based institutional scholarship or grant. In addition, all CUNY students may apply for merit-based ‘prestigious’ scholarships and fellowships; the Staten Island branch also offers 13 scholarships reserved for students with disabilities.
Louisiana State University
LSU more than 100 merit- and need-based departmental scholarships (the majority of which are reserved for students majoring in either business or agriculture) and institutional scholarships. Current students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher may also be eligible for the LSU Foundation Award, the amount of which will vary from year to year.
Indiana University - Bloomington
Under the IU Pell Promise Award program, Indiana University will pay the remaining tuition of any enrolled student who has received a federal Pell Grant and maintained a GPA of 3.0 or higher. State-sponsored financial aid options available to Indiana residents who enroll at four-year universities include the O’Bannon Grant, 21st Century Scholars Program, and Child of Veterans and Public Safety Officers (CVO) Supplemental Grants.
Although the 2014-15 listing has not been released, Marshall University has historically made need- and merit-based available to the entire student body, as well as awards specifically reserved for incoming freshmen, student athletes, top academic performers, and other niche groups. On- and off-campus work-study opportunities are posted on the university’s website.
Appalachian State University
In addition to need-based and merit-based grants available to all North Carolina residents, students who are enrolled at Appalachian State may also qualify for some of the 20 institutional and foundational scholarships offered through the university. Students who do not qualify for federal work-study programs are urged to visit Appalachian State’s online Student Employment portal
Louisiana Tech University
The scholarships offered at Louisiana Tech are divided into three categories: admissions, departmental, and private (external). In addition to the TOPS Program, Louisiana Go Grant, and other state-sponsored aid options, disabled students may qualify for financial assistance through the Louisiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services grant program.
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M has partnered with more than 100 Texas high schools to create the Century Scholars Program, which awards $20,000 to freshmen applicants who have excelled in academics or extracurricular activities. Other institutional financial aid programs available at the university include the Greater Texas Foundation Aggie Scholars Program, Regents’ Scholarship, and the Terry Foundation Scholarship.
North Carolina State University
In addition to nine institutional grants available to any students enrolled in the UNC system, North Carolina State offers scholarships for incoming freshmen, transfer students, international students, and graduate-level learners. Students interested in on- or off-campus work study employment should contact the university’s Career Development Center.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
For 13 consecutive years, Kiplinger’s Finance has named UNC Chapel Hill as the “best value in public education.” The university’s need-based James M. Johnston scholarships are reserved for freshmen from low-income families with exemplary grades and/or SAT scores. The university’s renewable merit-based scholarships include the Old Well and Founders Scholarship ($3,000 per year) and College Fellows Scholarships ($2,500 per year).
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Twenty specific academic departments at the University of Michigan award scholarships to students currently earning degrees in those respective fields. Michigan residents are also invited to apply for state-sponsored aid opportunities, such as the Michigan Competitive Scholarship or the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP). Non-federal work study programs are listed on the university’s online student employment portal.
Georgia Tech’s ‘gift aid’ options include 12 merit-based scholarships and 126 department- specific awards (most of which are reserved for upperclassmen with exemplary academic records). The Georgia Tech Fund (maintained with support from the university’s alumni association and industrial partners) provides financial support for a handful of students that demonstrate financial need.
University of Virginia
UVA students may qualify for Virginia Commonwealth Grants, which award up to $3,000 to each recipient per year (preference is given to Pell Grant recipients). Students who hail from Washington, D.C. (a significant contingent of the UVA student body) may also be eligible for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Program, which pays the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition (up to $10,000 per year). A full listing of institutional scholarships is available online.
West Virginia University
West Virginia’s scholarship offerings include awards reserved for freshmen, transfer students, members of certain minority groups, leadership students, and specific academic majors. In addition to federal and state-sponsored grants, the WVU HERF Grant is available to any West Virginia resident or non-resident enrolled at the university with demonstrated financial need.
San Diego State University
Undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships available to SDSU students are listed online; web users must enter their grade level and major field of study to generate a list of all scholarships for which they are eligible. As a member of the California State University system, SDSU students may also receive State University Grant (SUG) support for up to 150 credit units.
Middle Tennessee State University
The Tennessee State Assistance Award (TSAA) and Tennessee Lottery Scholarship are two state-level programs that provide tuition assistance for established residents who demonstrate financial need; Middle Tennessee also honors the D.C. Tuition Assistance Program. The university also offers an extensive list of need- and merit-based scholarship opportunities.
Cal Poly - Pomona
Cal Poly Pomona students who submit a Bronco Scholarship Application will be considered for more than 300 need- and merit-based scholarships offered through the university. Additionally, California residents enrolled at least half-time in a state university undergraduate program may qualify for tuition assistance from a Cal Grant. Students belonging to certain minority groups can apply for scholarships available through the university’s Office of Student Life and Culture.
University of Texas at Brownsville
The University of Texas at Brownsville’s extensive scholarship list includes 23 general scholarships, more than 90 department-specific awards, and further aid opportunities for graduate students, athletes, and other niche groups. The university’s Imagine College! tuition initiative covers all tuition and fees for recipients; applicants with family incomes exceeding $30,000 will not be considered.
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina A&T offers 28 endowment scholarships (most of which are need-based), merit-based awards through seven academic departments, and eight scholarships specifically reserved for current or veteran military service members. Additionally, the university’s National Alumni Association Scholarship covers all tuition and fees for a handful of applicants with stellar academic records; a GPA of 3.0, SAT score in the 75th percentile, and/or ACT score of 22 or higher is required.
California State University - Long Beach
More than 700 financial aid awards are included in the CSU Long Beach scholarship directory; incoming freshmen, undergraduates, and graduate students can perform a customized search (using their grade level and major field of study) to determine the scholarships for which they are eligible. In addition to other state-sponsored grants, the renewable Chafee Grant awards $5,000 per year to each recipient that maintains good academic standing.
University of Florida
The Florida Bright Futures program is a four-tiered award system that provides between $103 and $44 per credit hour for each recipient. The university also sponsors two renewable institutional grants for students with “exceptional financial need”: the I. Douglas Turner Grant (which provides up to $5,000 per year) and the UF Graduate Grant (which provides up to $2,000 per year).
California State University - San Marcos
Students who submit an online scholarship application will be considered for the more than 50 merit- and need-based scholarships offered at CSU San Marcos every semester. In addition, the Equal Opportunity Grant is reserved for students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Those who do not qualify for federal work study should seek out university-sponsored work study opportunities at the Career Center.
University of Washington
Undergraduate scholarship offerings at UW’s Seattle campus include five departmental awards, the Washington NASA Space Grant, and the Diversity Scholar Award (which awards up to $40,000 for four years of tuition per recipient). Graduate students may apply for financial assistance through grant awards and work study programs.
Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Texas A&M – Kingsville offers tuition assistance for prospective accountants with the Fifth-Year Accounting Student Grant, which provides up to $3,000 for recipients (financial need is required). Undergraduate and Graduate Tuition Grants (both of which supply up to $2,000 per year for recipients), as well as athletic and departmental scholarships, are also available.
University of Texas at Dallas
UT Dallas offers more than 80 institutional scholarships, many of which are department-specific or geared toward students with financial need. Veterans who attend the university may also qualify for tuition assistance under the Hazelwood Exemption Act, which provides support for up to 150 credit hours for military veterans from Texas.
University of Wyoming
The University of Wyoming provides four different scholarships (each of which provides $750 per semester) that are funded through sales of the university’s proprietary license plates. First-time students from Wyoming are encouraged to apply for the Hathaway Scholarship, Trustees’ Scholar Award, and other financial aid options exclusively available to state residents.
The Purdue Opportunities Program (funded by alumni and university donors) awards financial assistance to first-time students who are Indiana residents and whose families earn an annual income of $50,000 or less. Ten of the university’s academic departments award merit-based scholarships to students who are pursuing degrees in those respective fields of study.
Southeastern Louisiana University
The Southeastern Honor Scholarship awards up to $6,000 in tuition and housing assistance for incoming freshmen at SLU; the amount of award will vary on the applicant’s combined high school GPA and ACT scores. Another institutional award, the Progression Scholarship, provides up to $500 for sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are on track to graduate within four years.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Seven academic departments at UNC Wilmington offer merit-based scholarships for students who are pursuing degrees in those respective fields. The university’s SOAR Program is reserved for students whose family’s income is “less than 200% of the federal poverty level”; the program covers remaining costs of tuition and associated fees not provided by federal aid sources.
The South Carolina Need-Based Grant targets state residents who wish to attend Clemson (and other SC schools) and demonstrate financial need; the grant will provide up to $2,500 per recipient. Scholarships at Clemson are divided into four categories: academic recruiting (reserved for incoming freshmen), diversity, restricted (non-renewable), and department- specific.
Buffalo State SUNY
Buffalo State’s Bridge the Gap program involves a lottery of all students who demonstrate financial need; no application is required, and winners will be notified after each drawing. The university also offers merit-based scholarships, endowment awards, and financial aid options for international students.
Weber State University
WSU awards more than $90 million in financial aid and scholarship awards to its student body every year. Utah residents who attend the university may qualify for three renewable state-sponsored grants that award anywhere from $400 to $3,050 per recipient each year. WSU also offers scholarship opportunities for out-of-state students, incoming freshmen, and international students.
University of West Florida
Three institutional grants ― Enhancement, Undergraduate, and Graduate Grants ― are available to students who enroll at UWF; these award up to $2,000 per academic year for each recipient. Students who are admitted to UWF are automatically considered for all applicable scholarships and grants offered through the university; information from their application is used to determine eligibility for each award.