In this age of economic and financial uncertainty selecting the college you go to is just as important as selecting your major. As we all know some colleges are known for particular majors (For example, what pre-law student wouldn’t love to attend Harvard law school?), and in a perfect world we’d all like to go to the school that has the best program for whatever degree we hope to obtain.

However, another thing you should consider when selecting a school is which college has the best financial aid packages. And I’m not just talking about who will lend you money to go to school. Loans are a dime a dozen. But rather which schools are known to give students money. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could graduate from the college of your dreams without the shadow of debt hanging over your head?

It turns out you might be able to do just that. In October 2009 the College Board Forum conducted a study on financial aid which resulted in identifying the 51 colleges in the United States that offer the best financial aid packages. The results were then compiled into a chapter for College Board Forum’s Recognizing social class and serving low-income students in higher education: Institutional policies, practices, and culture, and was formally released in May 2010. The outcome was astounding. Some of the best colleges in the country offer the most attractive financial aid packages.

The conditions of the study were simple. The financial aid package had to be based on a student’s financial need, and the school had to be willing to put together a combination of grants and work-study programs that allowed the student to obtain an education without entering into loans that had to be paid back later. This is not to say the school would give the student an entire free ride, however, they were willing to work with the student to see how they could offer an education that fit within in a serious student’s financial means. Ironically, some of the most prestigious (and traditionally expensive) colleges fit the mold, including the following:


Amherst College
Arizona State University
Bowdoin College
Brown University
Cal Tech
Claremont McKenna
Colby College
College of William and Mary
Columbia University
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Davidson College
Duke University
Emory University
Georgia Tech
Harvard University
Haverford College
Indiana University
Lafayette College
Lehigh University
Michigan State University
North Carolina State
Northern Illinois University
Northwestern University
Pomona College
Princeton University
Rice University
Stanford University
Swarthmore College
Texas A&M University
Tufts University
University of North Carolina
University of Chicago
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Illinois
University of Maryland
University of Michigan
University of Pennsylvania
University of Virginia
US Military Academy
US Naval Academy
Vanderbilt University
Vassar College
Washington and Lee University
Washington U. St. Louis
Wellesley College
Wesleyan University
Williams College
Yale University

However, the percentage of financial need students attending these schools is very low. Only 10% to 15% of undergraduates attending 39 public universities and 75 private universities were receiving financial aid packages that didn’t include loans. Why? Simply put, students aren’t applying for financial aid at America’s most elite colleges. The idea of attending an expensive school such as Harvard or Vassar is completely off the radar for most students of financial need.

The bottom line is if you want a college education at a specific university, then you have to be persistent and a bit of a detective. Finding the right college financial aid is kind of like looking for loose change in the cushions of your couch. It’s there, you just have to find it.But it shouldn’t be. All a university can do is say no if you ask about financial aid. Many times all it takes is jumping through a few hoops by filling out forms or scheduling an interview with a school’s financial aid administrator. Even in these strange economic times, financial aid at some of the best schools is available. You just have to look for it. The best place to start is the web however, don’t be discouraged if your first choice turns you down. College administrations change, and budgets are determined annually, so aid that was available last year, may not be available this year. Conversely, however, new schools may have been added to the list for 2011 that weren’t previously there.

2 comments on “The Best Colleges to Offer Financial Aid

  • I’m looking for a college in Michigan that gives lots of financial aid for my college bound son (fall-2012) need to know the colleges that have the history of giving the best financial aid packages with the least amount of paying back. Plz send recommendations. Need to line a few up now.

  • it’s hard to say now days which colleges anywhere offer the best financial aid packages, because due to the precarious economy they change annually. However, I can give you a list of the financial aid programs that are administered by the state of Michigan and you can go from there. The list can be found on the web at,1607,7-128-38195_39283—,00.html. The two I would start with are The Michigan Competitive Scholarship and the Michigan Tuition Grant. They’re based on both need and merit and can be applied to many different participating colleges. If tuition money is an issue, focus on the grants and scholarships first and then pick a school. Not the other way round. Good luck!

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