Colleges That Meet 100% of Financial Need


If your family will need to depend on financial aid to attend college, your best bet is to find a school that will offer an excellent financial aid package to your child.

A handy way to assess the generosity of any school is to look at the percentage of demonstrated financial need it typically meets for its students.

Teenagers, who earn an acceptance into a school that meets 100% of need, can end up winning the educational equivalent of the lottery. Whether it will be a great deal will largely depend on how a particular school calculates financial need.

 Colleges and Universities That Meet 100% of Need

To make the search easier, here are the schools that I know of that say that they meet 100% of demonstrated financial need for all or the majority of its students. If you are aware of others, please let me know in the comment box below.

Also on this list I included schools, which I boldfaced, that meet at least 94% of need for the majority of its students.

  1. Albright College (PA)
  2. Amherst College (MA)
  3. Babson College (MA)
  4. Barnard College (NY)
  5. Bates College (ME)
  6. Bentley University (MA)
  7. Berea College (KY)
  8. Boston College (MA)
  9. Brown University (RI)
  10. Bryn Mawr College (PA)
  11. Bowdoin College (ME)
  12. Brandeis University (MA)
  13. Bucknell University (PA)
  14. California Institute of Technology
  15. Carleton College (MN)
  16. Claremont McKenna College (CA)
  17. Clark University (MA)
  18. Colby College (ME)
  19. Colgate University (NY)
  20. College of Atlantic (ME)
  21. College of the Holy Cross (MA)
  22. College of Wooster (OH)
  23. Colorado College (CO)
  24. Columbia University (NY)
  25. Connecticut College (CT)
  26. Cornell University (NY)
  27. Davidson College (NC)
  28. Denison University (OH)
  29. Dickinson College (PA)
  30. Duke University (NC)
  31. Dartmouth College (NH)
  32. Emory University (GA)
  33. Franklin and Marshall College (PA)
  34. Franklin W. Olin College
  35. Georgetown University (DC)
  36. Gettysburg College (PA)
  37. Grinnell College (IA)
  38. Gustavus Adolphus College (MN)
  39. Hamilton College (NY)
  40. Harvey Mudd College (CA)
  41. Haverford College (PA)
  42. Harvard University (MA)
  43. Johns Hopkins University (MD)
  44. Kalamazoo College (MI)
  45. Kenyon College (OH)
  46. Lafayette College (PA)
  47. Lehigh University (PA)
  48. Macalester College (MN)
  49. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
  50. Middlebury College (VT)
  51. Mount Holyoke College (MA)
  52. Northwestern University (IL)
  53. Oberlin College (OH)
  54. Occidental College (CA)
  55. Pitzer College (CA)
  56. Pomona College (CA)
  57. Princeton University (NJ)
  58. Reed College (OR)
  59. Rice University (TX)
  60. Saint John’s College (NM)
  61. Saint Olaf College (MN)
  62. Scripps College (CA)
  63. Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
  64. Smith College (MA)
  65. Stanford University (CA)
  66. Swarthmore College (PA)
  67. Syracuse University (NY)
  68. Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
  69. Trinity College (CT)
  70. Trinity University (TX)
  71. Tufts University (MA)
  72. Tulane University (LA)
  73. Union College (NY)
  74. University of Chicago (IL)
  75. University of Notre Dame (IN)
  76. University of Pennsylvania (PA)
  77. University of Richmond (VA)
  78. University of Rochester (NY)
  79. University of Southern California
  80. Vanderbilt University (TN)
  81. Vassar College (NY)
  82. Wabash College (IN)
  83. Wake Forest University (NC)
  84. Washington and Lee University (VA)
  85. Washington University, St. Louis, (MO)
  86. Wellesley College (MA)
  87. Wesleyan University (MA)
  88. Williams College (MA)
  89. Wheaton College (MA)
  90. Yale University (CT)

Generous Colleges

What you’ll notice about the above list is that the schools are highly selective. Many of these schools can provide 100% of need because they are wealthier with bigger endowments than their peers, but also because the majority of students who attend these schools are typically high income. With the wealthy children paying the sticker price or getting a modest merit scholarship, this generates more money for financial aid.

How Percentage of Need Met Works…

Let’s say the financial aid formula says your family can afford to pay $15,000 for one year of college. (That’s represented by your Expected Family Contribution.) Your child gets into a $50,000 school that promises to meet 100% of its students’ financial need.  That means the school will provide $35,000 in aid.

Schools will look for outside help first to build that $35,000 package. If the child qualifies for the federal Pell Grant for low-income students and an applicable state grant, that will be put into the package first. Nearly all schools also put a federal direct loan (formally known at the Stafford) into the package. The maximum direct loan limit for a freshman is $5,500. After that the school would kick in its own institutional money.

In this case, let’s assume the child doesn’t qualify for any state or federal grants at a school that meets 100% of need.

$50,000 Cost of Attendance

Minus            $15,000 Expected Family Contribution

Aid                 $35,000

After the federal direct loan is subtracted, the family would get nearly $30,000 in grants/scholarships (free money) to attend this school. Some of the most elite schools won’t put in a federal Loan.

In contrast, the majority of schools in this country would “gap” this student. A school might provide just $10,000 or $15,000 or $20,000 or even $0 dollars to meet this child’s need.

Definition of Need

The financial aid packages will vary based on the underlying aid formula that each school uses. Schools that use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (about 260 schools – nearly all private) can modify the standard aid formula in a variety of different ways. The school, for instance, can vary in how it assesses home equity, business assets, divorce and much more. Here is a recent post that I wrote about how schools vary in how they treat home equity:

Will Your Home Equity Impact Financial Aid Chances?

You can obtain the percentage-of-financial-need-met figures by heading to the College Board. I wrote the following blog post last year that explains how to generate these figures:

A Close-Up of a Stingy University

Bottom Line:

If your family will need significant financial aid, it’s important that your child be the best student possible so that he or she will be more likely to qualify for the caliber of schools that are generous.

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  1. Something else to consider for those families who will have more than one child in college at the same time: the colleges that meet full need AND have the largest endowments can give more aid when child #2 begins college (and child #1 is still in college.) In our case, we ran the NPC for Northwestern and for an ivy league school. With 2 children in school, the ivy would give us significantly more aid than would Northwestern.

    1. Hi Peg,

      Elite schools with large endowments can be generous, but you can’t assume that the award will be higher for a schools with a larger endowment. The underlying PROFILE formula for each school can be tweaked to make the institution more or less generous. Some Ivies penalize you for home equity, for instance, and others don’t.

      Lynn O.

  2. I have recently gone through the college search process with my two older children, both of whom are now attending the same state university in Virginia (and no, it’s not UVA). One is male, and one is female, and both were strong but not exceptional students. They both had all A’s and B’s and took 12 weighted classes (a mix of IB and AP) during their years at a highly competitive public high school in Northern Virginia. The school was so competitive that some 30 students in my daughter’s Class of 2014 had over a 2350 SAT, and 125 students in the class (out of about 530) had over a 4.0. This school sends more kids to elite colleges than does a neighboring private high school around the same size. My son had a 3.8 gpa, and my daughter a 4.0; and they both had excellent leadership roles and demonstrated talents and awards to put on their resumes. Yet, coming from our competitive area, not only could they not get into some of the most competitive schools (they are also caucasian and upper-middle-class — something we found to be a double-whammy in college admissions), they usually couldn’t get significant scholarship money from the next tier down. They were strong athletes, but not strong enough to get athletic scholarships. They were strong students, but not strong enough to really stand out in their competitive school. So the only schools willing to offer them any scholarship money were minimally selective out-of-state schools or minimally-selective private colleges. Some of these were excellent schools, even though they weren’t name brand schools, but even with the partial scholarship offers, they were more expensive than our in-state universities. Our public universities, even the second and third tiers, are quite good; so it was impossible to justify spending more money to go to a lesser school out of state or a private school. I think many middle class, strong-but-not-exceptional kids who don’t have a hook, from competitive public school districts like ours find themselves in this situation. For them, there is no better deal than paying full fare at the state university, especially if you can get into the honors program. The kids for whom good deals are available at highly selective schools (whose grades and scores match those of my kids) seem to be minorities, athletes, children of politicians, and occasionally legacies (although from our bunch, that doesn’t seem to be as big a hook as the others unless the legacy is also politically prominent or extremely wealthy). What I am talking about matches the case for the majority of kids applying to college — that vast middle group that isn’t accomplished enough or doesn’t have a hook to get into the tip top schools, yet isn’t poor enough to get a full ride — those in the middle who pick up the tab for everything, whether it’s our nation’s taxes or paying their own way. I would like to see a guide for people like that (the vast majority of college applicants) — a guide that helps with ideas for paying for college for the families of the good-but-not-exceptional students, in terms of grades and test scores, who also have no hook. I also noticed that the minority students from our high school who were accepted by elite colleges were not low income. In fact, they were mostly very high income with well educated parents. Most of our school’s low income minority or first-generation-college-student minorities were not getting accepted into the ranks of the elite schools. These schools are more interested in the bottom line and checking the box on their federally mandated requirements, so they love wealthy minority students, because they can check one of those boxes while the student pays full freight. I saw many students with “hooks” get into Ivy League or similar colleges over better qualified students without hooks. Again, these students — strong students without hooks — tended to find that their best bets were our own state universities. The only other thought I have with regard to the issue of need is that what a family’s idea of need is may be very different from a college’s or the FAFSA’s. In some cases, home equity counts against you. Many middle class families have most of their worth in their homes and may be planning to use it towards retirement, yet they are expected to tap into that to pay for college. One college offered my kids loans as financial aid. To me that was laughable, because this college thought of debt as aid. All of this has me convinced that if you live in a state with excellent state schools like we do, including many that aren’t in the very top tier but are still quite respectable and a couple that rival top liberal arts colleges (University of Mary Washington and Christopher Newport University come to mind), it is very difficult to find a better deal for the strong-but-not-exceptional-no-hook-student, sticker price or not.

  3. Demonstrated need is based on the EFC calculation, which is a very high number to begin with. For a family of four living in urban California, a $45k EFC out of a $150k income is not affordable. So even though the schools on this list may meet 100% of need, if they do not offer merit scholarships, this family will not be able to pay $45k out of their pocket every year. Even if the student went to a UC which is about $35k, they would have to pay full price with this EFC. The only affordable option would be the CSUs in this case, or a school that offers significant merit aid, or taking out parent loans.

  4. Do you have information on Christian or Bible schools that also help to cover most of the costs? We are a family with 7 kids and my husband is a school teacher (with a Master’s Degree) and makes

    1. Hi Heidi,

      Many Christian and Bible schools offer poor financial aid. You would have to use a net price calculator to see what the price would be for your family at a specific school. Keep in mind that the net price calculators that use the federal template are probably going to produce a net price that isn’t accurate. If a net price calculator asks a lot of question, it’s probably a good one.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    2. Hi Heidi,

      It occurred to me to mention on more thing. Bible schools have a lower cost than schools with higher visibilities and even if the schools aren’t as generous, the price tag could be lower. The same could be said of some Christian school.

      Lynn O.

    3. There are several Catholic colleges on the list.

      College of the Ozarks, MO (Evangelical Christian) is tuition free for all students in exchange for a work program. Residual costs of attendance look about $8k/year. Some additional sources of funds may be available. They do not participate in federal loan programs due to philosophy against debt.

      Berea College, KY (Nondenominational Christian) is tuition free for all students in exchange for a work program. Residual costs look about $9k. The Federal Loan program is available should it be needed.

      1. Hi Anne,

        Thanks for mentioning the two work colleges. I added Berea because it says it meets 96% of need. The College of the Ozarks says it meets 82% of need so I’m going to add this school to the list.

      2. You HAVE to live in the areas for Berea and/or Ozarks. That being said, I looked into those two colleges, and they won’t let you PAY to have your kid go there. My kid couldn’t even apply.

  5. Here’s something close from Northeastern Univ this year: “We meet full demonstrated institutional need for incoming fall freshmen who qualify for federal financial assistance.” – so they meet 100% only if you qualify for a Pell Grant? It’s at their site here: Can you translate, Lynn?

    When we completed the NPC (through the College Board calculator) Northeastern came out very generous, 2nd only to Colgate and Columbia, who are both on the 100% list above. (I’ve completed at least 12 NPC’s as part of our search process)

    I’ve also read UNC-Chapel Hill and UVA are able to do 100% in other stories I read. That may include significant self-help though (loan and work-study).

  6. Our oldest child is starting to look at colleges. I just ran the net price calculator at Colgate. Tuition, room and board hover around $60,000. We are a household of 5, with a gross income of $150,000. The net price calculator came up with $54,000 a year. Our downfall? The home that we purchased in 1997 has increased in value. We have no assets outside of our home and retirement savings. Am I missing something here? How does Colgate meet 100% of need?

    1. Hi Erog,

      When I looked at the spreadsheet I have for how some PROFILE schools treat home equity, I saw that Colgate assesses it at two times earnings. So if you made $150,000 that would cap your home equity at $300,000. PROFILE schools assess parent assets at 5% so this would raise your EFC by $15,000. It is possible to appeal to schools when receiving financial-aid awards that have been reduced because of home equity. Of course, state universities and many less prestigious private schools do not use home equity in their calculations.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy