As a new college application season gets underway, the price tag for higher education is in the spotlight.
Now, above all else, students and families are concerned about the rising cost and the student debt that often goes along with it — without considering the schools with the most generous aid packages.
To that end, The Princeton Review ranked colleges by how much financial aid is awarded and how satisfied students are with their packages. The Princeton Review’s Best Colleges for 2024 report is based on data collected from 165,000 student surveys.
Tuition and fees at a four-year private college averaged $39,400 in the 2022-23 academic year. At four-year, out-of-state public colleges, it was $28,240, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid. When adding in other expenses, the total tab can be more than $70,000 a year for undergraduates at some private colleges, and in some cases, even for out-of-state students attending four-year public schools.
However, about two-thirds of all full-time students receive aid, which can bring the cost significantly down. Your net price is a college’s tuition and fees minus grants, scholarships and education tax benefits, according to the College Board.
“Crossing a school off the list of consideration based on sticker price alone is a mistake,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review.
‘There’s an enormous amount of grant aid’
When it comes to offering aid, private schools typically have more money to spend, Franek said. “Lots of private schools have great financial wherewithal and those resources get channeled into financial aid.”
The top schools for financial aid are all private and considered among the nation’s most expensive institutions, after accounting for tuition, fees and room and board. Yet, their very generous aid packages make them surprisingly affordable.
“There’s an enormous amount of grant aid — $74 billion — that’s a ton,” Franek said. As a result, “there are some schools that simply are more able to meet a student’s and family’s demonstrated financial need and that is something for prospective students and families to know about.”
In fact, the average need-based scholarship awarded to undergraduates on this year’s top 10 list was $45,447.
Top 10 colleges for financial aid
1. Washington University in St. Louis
Location: St. Louis
Sticker price: $83,760
Average need-based scholarship: $58,197
Total out-of-pocket cost: $25,563
2. Thomas Aquinas College
Location: Santa Paula, California
Sticker price: $39,400
Average need-based scholarship: $15,283
Total out-of-pocket cost: $24,117
3. Skidmore College
Location: Saratoga Springs, New York
Sticker price: $78,880
Average need-based scholarship: $50,000
Total out-of-pocket cost: $28,880
4. College of the Atlantic
Location: Bar Harbor, Maine
Sticker price: $56,280
Average need-based scholarship: $37,229
Total out-of-pocket cost: $19,051
5. Wabash College
Location: Crawfordsville, Indiana
Sticker price: $62,425
Average need-based scholarship: $37,419
Total out-of-pocket cost: $25,006
6. Emory University
Sticker price: $71,770
Average need-based scholarship: $51,808
Total out-of-pocket cost: $19,962
7. St. Olaf College
Location: Northfield, Minnesota
Sticker price: $69,070
Average need-based scholarship: $44,362
Total out-of-pocket cost: $24,708
8. Reed College
Location: Portland, Oregon
Sticker price: $78,010
Average need-based scholarship: $45,237
Total out-of-pocket cost: $37,773
9. Williams College
Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts
Sticker price: $77,300
Average need-based scholarship: $66,083
Total out-of-pocket cost: $11,217
10. Gettysburg College
Location: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Sticker price: $76,690
Average need-based scholarship: $48,852
Total out-of-pocket cost: $27,838