The Cost of College and the Need for College Financial Aid in 2017

The concept of student financial aid and finding colleges with the best financial aid is an important one for students and their families, particularly as the cost of attending a higher learning institution continues to rise.

The College Board, a not-for-profit organization that was created in 1900 with the goal of creating more access to higher education, regularly publishes content about the cost of education.

Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Award Emblem: Top 6 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Some highlights from their recent report entitled “Trends in College Pricing 2016” include:

  • While there was some slowing in the rising prices of tuition and fees for the 2016-17 school year, the price still exceeds the rate of inflation.
  • The average published out-of-state tuition and fees at a public four-year institution are $24,930 for 2016-17. The average total charges are $35,370. That represents a 3.6% increase from 2015-16.
  • The average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year schools also rose by 3.6% to $33,480 in 2016-17, and the average charges are $45,370.

With the high costs of receiving an education, most students are finding it necessary to seek some type of student aid. While the costs are incredibly high, students do have options that help them pay for their education, and according to the same report, more than 70% of full-time students receive grant funding.

In 2016-17, the estimated average net tuition and fee price paid by full-time students at public four-year colleges was $3,770, according to the same report from The College Board.

The following ranking of the best financial aid colleges highlights the colleges with the best financial aid of all types, and also looks at the schools where students leave with the lowest amounts of debt.

This ranking of college grants and scholarships also includes some general information about student aid and what to know as you apply for financial aid and college scholarships.

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AdvisoryHQ’s List of the Top 6 Best College Financial Aid Schools

List is sorted alphabetically (click any of the college names below to go directly to the detailed review section for that college):

Top 6 Best Schools for College Financial Aid | Brief Comparison

Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Estimated Annual Tuition and Fees

Other Key Rankings

Bowling Green State University$19,296 for in-state students and $26,832 for non-residentsTop-ranked by U.S. News and World Report with around 90% of all students receiving student financial aid
Pomona CollegeTotal cost estimate is $64,957Top-ranked by Time MONEY with an average debt load at graduation of only $8,600
Princeton UniversityTotal cost estimate is $66,645U.S. News and Report ranks Princeton as a #2 Best Value School because of financial aid options
Rice UniversityTotal cost estimate is $60,548Ranked by Time MONEY as #4 on list of best colleges for need-based aid
Vanderbilt UniversityTotal cost estimate is $64,654Ranked by Kiplinger as one of the best values among private colleges and universities
Washington and Lee UniversityTotal cost estimate is $64,700U.S. News and World Report ranks it as one of the top 10 “Best Value Schools”
Table: Top 6 Best Schools for College Financial Aid | Above list is sorted alphabetically

What Are the Different Types of Financial Aid for College?

Not all types of student financial aid and college financial aid are the same. In fact, there are some pretty significant differences between various types of financial aid for college.

The following is a brief overview of some of the most common types of student financial aid.

  • Aid from the federal government: Student aid that comes from the federal government is a broad category, and there are options from the U.S. Department of Education that come in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and work-study programs.These federal student aid programs cover tuition and fees, as well as associated costs. There are also other programs for student financial aid from the federal government including programs that are benefits for individuals who have served in the military or who are married to or children of a veteran, as well as tax benefits which are offered to students.  
  • Aid from the state government: There are also options for students offered through their state government, and the programs are similar in structure to what’s provided by the federal government.
  • College financial aid from schools: Many colleges and universities, including the ones on this ranking of the colleges with the best financial aid, offer their own funding programs and college scholarships.
  • Aid from non-profits and private groups: There are options to receive college scholarships and grants from a variety of non-profit and private groups.

What Are the Differences Between Private and Federal Student Loans?

There are two ways you can classify student financial aid and college financial aid. The first is merit-based student aid, while the second is need-based. Need-based financial aid usually can come in the form of student loans, which have been something of a controversial topic over recent years, particularly as students are graduating with staggering amounts of debt that that is difficult for them to pay back given the difficult job market.

College Scholarships

Image Source: College Financial Aid

Regardless, many students still have to apply for financial aid in the form of private or federal loans, either to pay for the entirety of their education or to cover gaps, such as what merit-based aid doesn’t cover. Within the category of student loans, there are private and federal options.

The following are some key differences between private and federal student loans.

  • A federal student loan, as the name implies, is given by the federal government, and one of the key benefits as compared to a private student loan is that the interest rates are fixed, and they tend to be quite a bit lower than private loans.
  • Private loans, on the other hand, are given by institutions such as banks, and the interest rates may be variable, which means with this particular type of college financial aid, the rates could go up significantly over the years of repayment.
  • With federal student loans, students typically don’t have to start repaying them until they graduate or leave school, while with private student loans, there may be a requirement that borrowers begin making payments while they’re still attending school.
  • With federal student loans, typically no credit check is required, meaning there is no co-signor requirement either. With private student loans, a student may need to have an established credit history or they may need a cosigner.
  • For many people searching for student financial aid, federal student loans are a better option because there are deferment options, which allow them to postpone repayment if they’re having difficulty meeting their payments, while private loans often do not offer this option.

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Detailed Review – Top Ranking Best College Financial Aid Options

Below, please find the detailed review of each of the colleges with the best financial aid. We have highlighted some of the factors that allowed these schools with the best college financial aid packages to score so well in our selection ranking.

Bowling Green University Review

Bowling Green University is a public university located in Ohio, offering undergraduate and graduate programs. Located 30 minutes south of Toledo, Bowling Green was founded in 1910 and highlights of the 1,338-acre campus include The Wolfe Center for the Arts, Falcon Heights Residence Hall, and the newly constructed Stroh Center.

The school has more than 19,000 students from 50 states and 70 countries, along with 800 full-time faculty members. U.S. News and World Report ranks BGSU as one of the top public universities in the country as well. BGSU offers more than 200 undergraduate majors and programs that are divided across eight colleges.

These colleges include Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, Education & Human Development, the Graduate College, Health & Human Services, Musical Arts, and Technology, Architecture & Applied Engineering.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

The following are details about the college financial aid from BGSU that led to its ranking on this list of the best schools for students who need financial aid for college.

Annual Tuition and Fees

Before considering the college scholarships and student aid available from BGSU, one of the colleges with the best financial aid options in the country, the following is a breakdown of their 2015-16 Annual Fee Structure:

  • $19,102 for Ohio undergraduate students including the standard rates for tuition, fees, room, and meals
  • $26,638 for non-resident undergraduates including standard rates for tuition, fees, room, and meals
  • $11,582 for Ohio graduate students including tuition and fees
  • $18,890 for non-resident graduate student tuition and fees

Student Aid

​Image Source: Bowling Green State University

Student Financial Aid

What’s important to note about BGSU, particularly since it’s a key reason it’s included in this ranking of the best options if you’re searching for financial aid for college, is the fact that 90% of all students here receive some type of college financial aid.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Bowling Green’s average merit award to out-of-state students in 2014-15 was $10,097.

Out-of-state students represented about 12 percent of all undergraduates during that school year. Bowling Green was also recognized by U.S. News and World Report for having the highest proportion of students receiving non-need-based aid during the 2014-2015 academic year as compared to all of the 150 ranked national public universities that submitted financial aid data to the media outlet.

Also, according to CollegeNet, which is an organization that works to highlight schools that do the best at helping disadvantaged students graduate without crippling amounts of debt, BGSU ranked 53 out of 539 schools on the Social Mobility Index.

Factors considered in the ranking included tuition, the percentage of the student body from low-income households, graduation rates, salaries of graduates once they start working, and the size of the school’s endowment.

Pomona College Review

Pomona College, located in Claremont, California, is a private liberal arts college. This school offers 48 majors that span across the disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts. Pomona is often included in rankings of the best liberal arts schools in the country, as well as one of the best financial aid colleges. There are more than 1,600 students at Pomona College, and they come from across the country as well as 60 other countries.

One of the advantages of Pomona, along with the fact that it offers plenty of options for financial aid for students and is frequently named as one of the colleges with the best financial aid, is the fact that it has a student-faculty ratio of 8 to 1.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Best Schools Offering Financial Aid for College

When searching for financial aid scholarships and general financial aid for students, Pomona is a top choice for reasons like the ones listed below.

Annual Tuition and Fees

The current total charged to students who attend Pomona College was $64,957 for the 2016-17 academic year. This includes general tuition fees that are $24,502.50 per semester.

The room fee is $4,527.50 per semester, and board per semester ranges from $3,275 to $3,355 in most cases, but it can be lower depending on the number of meals a student opts for each week. There are also some departmental fees depending on the courses a student is taking.

Pomona offers payment plans including a monthly option, where there are four billing installments each semester.

Student Financial Aid

Pomona is unique among even the best financial aid colleges included in this ranking because the school is committed to providing need-based financial aid as well as need-blind admissions.

According to Pomona statistics, any family who thinks they will need help can apply for financial aid, and when there is a need determined, the aid office will work to meet it. 67% of students receive some form of financial aid, which includes loans and private, outside scholarships, and 57% of students receive need-based financial aid for college directly from Pomona.

Student Financial Aid

Image Source: Pomona College

The financial aid package at this pick for one of the colleges with the best financial aid includes grants, scholarships, and work stipends. The school doesn’t package loans as student aid.

According to Time MONEY, more than 70% of Pomona students graduate without any debt, and they have a 90% graduation rate.

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Princeton University Review

Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University is a private, Ivy League Research University. Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the country, having been chartered in 1746. The school offers undergraduate and graduate programs. Areas of study available at this school, which is ranked as one of the colleges with the best financial aid options, include the arts and humanities, social sciences, engineering, and natural sciences.

There are around 5,200 undergraduate students who are part of the Princeton community and 2,600 graduate students. One of the primary goals at Princeton is to provide extensive student financial aid options and college scholarships so that when diverse, talented students from a range of backgrounds apply for financial aid, they have opportunities to attend.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Best Schools for College Financial Aid

When completing a financial aid application or searching for financial aid scholarships, the following are specifics about Princeton that led to its inclusion in this ranking.

Annual Tuition and Fees

Princeton is one of the most expensive schools in this ranking of the colleges with the best financial aid, but they do work to make it affordable for as many students as possible. The estimated cost of attendance for 2017-18 is $66,645. This includes tuition, which is estimated at $47,500, and room charges which are estimated around $8,860.

This amount also includes the board rate of $6,635 and the estimated miscellaneous expenses, which are $3,650.

Princeton offers flexible payment options, including making one payment each semester, twelve monthly payments or utilizing a Princeton Parent Loan. This allows families to borrow their portion of the costs of Princeton at a variable or fixed interest rate, and it’s based on credit history. There’s also the Direct PLUS Loan, which is a federally-sponsored direct loan.

In addition to these loans, there are also a wide variety of other student financial aid options, which are detailed below.

Student Financial Aid

The loans named above are student aid options that are loan-based, but Princeton excels at offering college grants and scholarships as well, which is why it’s one of the best financial aid colleges.

The reason Princeton tends to excel in terms of being one of the colleges with the best financial aid is because it is an Ivy League school and there are a lot of donations and endowments that come from alumni and organizations, so the school is able to offer these in the form of college grants and scholarships.

Time.com’s MONEY division ranks Princeton as number one for college financial aid programs. Time.com cites the average price for low-income students after grant aid as $3,630, with the average student debt loan at graduation only coming in at $6,810.

If a student is admitted, Princeton says their full financial need is considered and can be met. This student aid policy applies to domestic and international students, and financial aid packages generally include grants and a work-study program as opposed to student loans whenever possible.

According to CollegeFactual.com, about 58% of undergraduate students at Princeton get some form of grant aid, and the average awarded amount is $38,704.

Rice University Review

One of the country’s top research universities, Rice University also excels regarding the provision of college financial aid and options for students to apply for financial aid including college grants and scholarships. Rice is located in Houston and is a private institution with seven schools and both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Along with being one of the best places to find financial aid for college, Rice also ranks well in terms of being a top national research university. It was cited as one of the “Best Colleges and Universities for Women” in 2016 by College Choice, and was also named by the same organization as one of the “Best Schools for a Computer Science Degree.”

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Regarding options to apply for financial aid, available college scholarships, and other financial aid for college, the following are reasons Rice is part of this ranking.

Annual Tuition and Fees

Before delving into the specific options of financial aid for students at Rice, it’s good to first consider the annual tuition and fees.

The 2016-17 cost of attendance according to the school is $43,220 for tuition. Then, including room and board, fees, personal expenses, and all of the other estimated expenses, the total cost is $60,548.

Rice, one of the colleges with the best financial aid options, offers students and families the Rice Net Price Calculator tool, which helps them see an estimate of their need-based eligibility for college financial aid.

Financial Aid For Students

As one of the best financial aid colleges, Rice offers a variety of student aid options. These include not only financial aid scholarships, but also work-study programs and grants.

The financial aid application process can be easily managed through the Rice student portal, which is known as ESTHER. Here students and future students can see their most recent financial aid application information and status, as well as award information.

Time MONEY ranks Rice as number four in their overall rankings on its list of the best financial aid colleges. According to Time MONEY, the average price for low-income students after grant aid is $6,468, and the average student loan debt at graduation is only $8,413.

According to U.S. News and Report, 37% of full-time undergraduate students receive student financial aid of some kind. The average college grants and scholarships award amount is just over $36,000 at Rice.

Rice is also ranked as number 4 in the country for best values among private universities according to Kiplinger.

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Vanderbilt University Review

Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University is a leading private research university. Along with being ranked as one of the leading institutions offering financial aid for students, Vanderbilt has a long history that started in 1873. The school offers a variety of undergraduate programs across disciplines including the liberal arts, sciences, engineering, music, and more. They also offer graduate programs including schools of law, business, medicine, and nursing.

For the 2016-17 school year, Vanderbilt has an enrollment that includes 6,817 full-time undergraduate students, and there are 5,017 full-time graduate and professional students. The total enrollment of Vanderbilt is 12,587, and 90% of undergraduates live on campus. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 8:1 at this pick for one of the colleges with the best financial aid.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Top Schools to Receive College Financial Aid

When comparing financial aid application opportunities and college grants and scholarships, the following are some reasons Vanderbilt is part of this ranking.

Annual Tuition and Fees

At Vanderbilt, one of the colleges with the best financial aid opportunities, the estimated costs for full-time undergrad students for the 2016-17 academic year included $44,496 for tuition and $9,772 for residence hall living.

Including meals, books and supplies, student activities and personal expenses, the total cost for undergraduate students was estimated at $64,654.

While the prices are high, Vanderbilt is ranked third on Kiplinger’s list of “Best Values Among Private Colleges.” It’s also ranked sixth on Kiplinger’s list of the “Overall Best College Value.” This school is ranked by the Princeton Review as number 7 on its list for “Best Financial Aid.”

These are in addition to top ratings in areas such as best national universities, best undergraduate teaching, happiest students, and the best college city that students love.

College Financial Aid

Before completing a financial aid application for Vanderbilt, students and their families should first note that the school will review 100% of all need-based applications, and the school is committed to meeting 100% of each admitted student’s demonstrated financial need.

Opportunity Vanderbilt is a program that ensures students receive a top-tier education that they can afford, and for the 2014-15 academic year, 60% of students received some type of financial aid.

The admissions process is need-blind at Vanderbilt, and student aid awards don’t include student loans. Instead of offering need-based loans to undergraduate students, Vanderbilt provides assistance in the form of college grants and scholarships.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average total indebtedness of the 2015 graduating class was only $21,506, and according to Time MONEY, the average cost for low-income students after grant aid at Vanderbilt was only $6,905 last year.

Washington and Lee University Review

A private liberal arts school in Virginia, Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749. Education at Washington and Lee is based on a liberal arts foundation paired with modern technology and perspectives. The school is set in a scenic and rural area of Virginia, and U.S. News and World Report ranks it as #11 among National Liberal Arts Colleges.

Two undergraduate divisions make up the school. These are the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics. Washington and Lee has only one graduate school, which is the similarly well-ranked School of Law.

Key Factors That Led to Our Ranking of This as One of the Top Colleges with the Best Financial Aid

Washington and Lee is recognized as one of the schools with the best opportunities for college financial aid, including college grants and scholarships. Below are student aid details related to Washington and Lee.

Annual Tuition and Fees

The cost to attend Washington and Lee for undergraduate tuition is $47,280 based on the 2016-17 academic year. The cost for a single room as an undergraduate is currently $7,650, while the cost of board for a double room as an undergraduate is $5,250. The cost of books and supplies is estimated to be around $1,800 for undergrads.

Altogether with fees included, the estimated standard cost of attendance at Washington and Lee is $64,700 annually for undergraduate students.

While the expenses are costly to attend W&L, the school has outlined its mission to provide ample opportunities for students to apply for financial aid, with the focus being on college grants and scholarships, rather than loans.

College Financial Aid

W&L is part of this ranking of the schools offering the best options for financial aid for college because they have outlined specific ways they provide as many students as possible with the opportunity to attend the school.

Washington and Lee guarantees they will meet 100 percent of a student’s determined need only through grants and student employment. This is part of their no-loan commitment, and the student aid office doesn’t offer loans to address any area of need. When a student completes a financial aid application, they are applying for grant packages that allow 67 percent of students to graduate debt-free at W&L.

Also available is the Johnson Scholarship Program, which awards full tuition, room, and board scholarships every year to 40 of the most qualified students, regardless of their family or financial situation.

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Conclusion—Top 6 Colleges with the Best Financial Aid Options

While the rate of growth may have slowed slightly in the past year, the costs of attending a college or university remains staggering. Many students have been forced to take out student loans as their primary form of student financial aid, but this leaves them burdened with debt at graduation.

The above names on this ranking of the colleges with the best financial aid are unique because when students apply for financial aid through these schools, they’re getting the opportunity to take advantage of college grants and scholarships, rather than relying strictly on student loans to fund their education.

Each of these best financial aid colleges remains committed to helping as many admitted students attend as possible, and they’ve focused a lot in recent years on creating college grants and scholarships that leave many students debt-free or nearly debt-free when they graduate.

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