If your family will need significant financial aid, you will increase your chances of receiving a lot of outside help if you get accepted to schools with Cadillac financial aid packages. These schools meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that the financial aid methodology says your family can afford to pay $20,000 for one year of college. Let’s also assume that the college you want to go to costs $50,000.
If you get accepted to a school that meets 100% of your financial need, your family would pay $20,000, and the financial aid package would include $30,000. The schools with the best aid practices do not include loans in their financial aid package.
All this might sound great, but here’s the hitch: The schools that are most generous are also among the most elite. Schools like Yale University, Smith College, Pomona College, and Middlebury College are extremely hard to get into, but if you are accepted into one of these schools—and need financial aid – you’ve struck gold. US News compiled a list of schools that claim they meet the full financial need of their students, and you can see by looking at the names that nearly all of them are elite institutions.
Here are the colleges with the best financial aid packages:
The vast majority of private and public colleges and universities can’t provide the sort of sweet deal that the schools on the U.S. News list offer. In a higher-ed industry survey, only 32 percent of public institutions and 18 percent of private colleges said they meet the full financial need of accepted students.
Measuring a College’s Financial Aid Generosity
Since most teenagers aren’t going to qualify for elite schools with their awesome financial aid, what can they do? When evaluating any college, they should start by asking these two questions:
1. What is the average percentage of financial need that the college meets?
While most schools can’t come close to offering 100% of need, it’s best to find schools that meet the highest percentage of need possible. The numbers for individual schools are all over the board. Some schools might meet 60% of need, others 85% or 74% or any other number.
2. What is the college’s average breakdown of loans versus grants?
As a practical matter, nearly all schools will use loans in their packages, which is why you will want to pay attention to the percentage of loans versus grants in the average aid package. You can find all these figures for individual schools on sites like College Board and COLLEGEdata.
I’m going to use Wofford College, a private liberal arts college in South Carolina, as an example, using Wofford’s financial aid statistics from the College Board’s site.
The average percentage of need that Wofford College meets is 86%, which is very good. The average aid package is $29,916 for a school where tuition and room and board totals $40,580. The average need-based grant is $28,448. Of the total undergraduate aid awarded, the breakdown of Wofford’s scholarships/grants versus loans/work study is 86%t to 14%, which is great.
Now that you know something about evaluating a school’s financial generosity, let’s see you try it with colleges on your list.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also write a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.com and US News.