Top 10 Colleges With the Best Financial Aid in 2022
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Financial aid can make an expensive school more affordable. Many top-ranked private schools charge tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees. So how do students afford that price tag?
The colleges with the best financial aid can help students graduate debt-free. At many colleges on our list, middle-class students qualify for $50,000 or more in grants and scholarships.
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To create our ranking of schools with the best financial aid, we looked at average 2019-20 institutional financial aid packages using data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. Only schools that meet 100% of students' financial need without loans and without strict income requirements made our list.
We also considered factors such as school reputation, academic quality, and national rankings.
1. Princeton University — Princeton, NJ
Average First-Year Aid Package: $52,437
Princeton practices need-blind admission and offers need-based financial aid. The Ivy League institution evaluates the finances of the applicant's family to put together a grant package.
Princeton ranks at the top of the list of colleges with the best financial aid because of its broad eligibility. For the class of 2025, every student with a family income of less than $180,000 qualified for aid.
Those with a family income of under $65,000 received an average grant large enough to cover full tuition and room and board.
2. Columbia University — New York, NY
Average First-Year Aid Package: $55,773
Columbia's financial aid office conducts a financial analysis to build a financial aid package with no loans. The university promises to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need for first-year and transfer students.
Students with a family income of less than $60,000 are not expected to contribute toward college costs. Columbia provides a financial aid calculator to help you estimate costs based on your expected family contribution.
3. Yale University — New Haven, CT
Average First-Year Aid Package: $56,581
Yale promises to meet the full need of students without loans. The university's financial aid policies include need-blind admissions and need-based aid.
Yale uses a sliding scale to determine how much families are expected to contribute. Families making $75,000 or less per year are expected to contribute 1% toward college costs, with the sliding scale rising for those with higher incomes.
According to the university, for the class of 2023, families with under $65,000 in income all qualified for scholarship aid and received a median scholarship of nearly $77,000.
4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge, MA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $50,785
MIT promises custom affordability plans for every admitted student. The institution reports that 60% of students receive need-based aid, which lowers the cost of MIT tuition to a similar amount as out-of-state students pay to attend a public college or university.
In 2021-22, MIT increased the total amount of its scholarships to over $155 million. Most students with family incomes of less than $90,000 can attend the school tuition-free. And those with a family income of less than $65,000 received an MIT scholarship worth an average of over $71,000.
5. Harvard University — Cambridge, MA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $55,389
Harvard boasts that it's more affordable than a public university for 90% of Americans. That's thanks to the university's strong financial aid packages. The Ivy League institution uses need-blind admissions and meets 100% of demonstrated financial need.
According to Harvard, families with an annual income below $65,000 are not expected to make any financial contribution. Those making between $65,000 and $150,000 are asked to contribute no more than 10% of their income.
Harvard also offers a calculator to help students estimate financial aid.
6. Stanford University — Stanford, CA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $51,725
Stanford ranks among the most exclusive universities. It's also one of the colleges with the best financial aid. The university uses a need-based eligibility method to put together financial aid packages. Stanford reports that the class of 2023 received an average institutional scholarship worth over $52,000.
According to the university, over 95% of families making $215,000 or less receive scholarship aid from Stanford, with families making under $65,000 receiving an average of more than $78,000 in scholarships and grants.
7. Amherst College — Amherst, MA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $55,252
Amherst uses a need-blind admissions policy and offers generous financial aid packages. As a result, many students pay well below the posted tuition rate. In fact, Amherst provided over $60 million in scholarships during the 2020-21 academic year.
The liberal arts college prioritizes scholarship and federal work-study aid without any loans in its aid packages. Most graduates leave Amherst with little to no debt. Amherst also works with QuestBridge to bring talented, low-income students to the institution, with QuestBridge students making up more than 10% of the student body.
8. University of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia, PA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $51,169
Penn promises to meet the demonstrated need for admitted students. The Ivy university uses need-blind admissions for North American applicants, including Canadian and Mexican students, and provides grant-based aid packages, which include scholarships and work-study funds.
Family circumstances can change over four years, so Penn reevaluates its financial aid packages for students who may experience family job loss or a sibling starting college. That helps make Penn one of the universities with the best financial aid.
9. Northwestern University — Evanston, IL
Average First-Year Aid Package: $47,524
Northwestern boasts a $207 million budget for financial aid, and 61% of undergrads qualify. In addition, over half of students receive a scholarship from the university.
At Northwestern, over 9 in 10 students with a family income of less than $120,000 receive aid. For the lowest-income students, the average aid package exceeds $74,000 per year. Northwestern also promises to meet unmet need without loans.
10. Pomona College — Claremont, CA
Average First-Year Aid Package: $49,264
Pomona ranks among the best schools for financial aid. The small liberal arts institution uses need-blind admissions while promising to meet the demonstrated financial need of all students.
The college determines financial need based on household income and family circumstances. Pomona's financial aid package includes grants and a student employment allotment. While the college does offer loans, students are guaranteed to receive non-loan-based financial aid up to their demonstrated need.
Around 2 in 3 Pomona students use financial aid to pay for school, with more than half of students receiving need-based scholarships. As a result, only 1 in 3 Pomona graduates takes out loans.
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