Both parents and students want reliable and relevant information about colleges that meet their full financial needs for several reasons. For one thing, prospective college students are understandably concerned about the cost of college education, particularly those from low-income families.
Both public and private institutions have increased their tuition during the 2022-2023 academic year, with the average college tuition cost increasing between 0.8% and 1% in public schools and about 4% in private colleges.
Another thing, the opportunity to attend college comes with the risk of student debt, even with financial aid packages in place. The average student federal loan debt stands at $37,787, but it can be as high as $40,780, including private student loans. Among public college students, the average student loan debt is $32,880 to earn a bachelor’s degree – still a substantial amount for low-income students.
And with the three-part student debt relief program of the Biden administration suspended by the courts, the importance of looking at colleges that meet eligible students’ full financial needs cannot be overemphasized! The plan includes up to $20,000 in federal student loans forgiveness; private student loans are obviously excluded from the student debt relief program.
How Colleges that Meet Full Financial Need Work
The financial aid packages that colleges meeting full financial needs offer their prospective students are based on their demonstrated financial needs. Simply put, demonstrated financial need is the difference between the expected family contribution and the cost of attendance.
The expected family contribution refers to the amount in dollars that a student’s family should have the financial ability to contribute toward tuition. Generally speaking, the higher your family’s income and assets, the higher it will be.
The cost of attendance refers to the total sticker price that usually includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and essential personal expenses. The all-in cost of attendance is for one academic year, and it’s usually stated on the admissions website or financial aid page of colleges and universities.
Let’s assume that the total cost of attendance in your school of choice is $60,000, and your expected family contribution, as determined by the school, is $15,000 for the academic year. Your demonstrated financial need is then $45,000, and the college will provide a financial aid package in the same amount.
How is demonstrated financial need determined? Colleges and universities use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and, in about 300 institutions, the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, as well as other supplemental documents.
Most colleges without federal student loans in their financial aid packages use the CSS Profile in determining the student’s financial capacity. Colleges and universities that meet total financial aid also have their unique financial aid processes for determining each student’s financial situation.
The FAFSA and CSS Profile have significant differences – the CSS Profile has more detailed questions about the student’s financial capacity that are not on the FAFSA, such as information about educational and medical expenses, assets in the family’s primary residence, and financial information of both parents. While the CSS Profile is more cumbersome and challenging in its completion, it can result in a better financial aid package.
And then there are the need-blind colleges that admit students regardless of their financial need and ability and, thus, offer generous financial aid packages. In other words, need-blind colleges evaluate applications of prospective students based on their merits, such as academic performance and potential, research interests, and leadership abilities, instead of their financial needs.
How can colleges that meet the demonstrated financial need of their students do so? Most of these schools have multimillion-dollar endowments from which the funds for their scholarships and grants are sourced.
Four of the ten colleges that meet full financial need have among the largest endowments in the US higher education system – Harvard University, Stanford University, Princeton University, and MIT.
Many of these schools that meet full financial needs also have a no-loans policy, meaning students are strongly discouraged from taking out student loans by providing them with generous financial aid programs. But since each student’s financial capacity varies, there may be a need to take out student loans for non-covered expenses. Student debt can be significantly reduced thanks to generous financial aid packages.
How to Choose From Among Colleges Meeting Full Financial Needs
Keep in mind that every college and university that meets full financial needs has its own unique financial aid formula. While the factors that affect the determination of financial aid may be stated, the financial aid panel usually doesn’t disclose the specific criteria and process for determining demonstrated financial need and the personalized financial aid package.
Even in schools with fairly transparent financial aid policies and practices, students accepted into their programs should be more forthcoming about asking questions. These can include the percentage of demonstrated needs that can be met, the reconsideration policies, and the financial aid process itself.
Don’t choose a college based on its promise of meeting the full financial need of its eligible students either! You should consider the quality of academic programs and instruction, the areas of studies offered, and the reputation of the colleges, among other factors.
Remember that earning a college degree isn’t just about getting it nearly for free from colleges that meet full financial needs. It’s also about benefiting from the college experience in the present and future – and that includes matching your college degree with your career path.
How to Maximize Financial Aid
Most of the colleges that meet total financial aid are among the most selective in their admissions process, and it extends to their financial aid packages. Applicants, for example, may be required to submit a demonstrated financial need essay intended to persuade the financial aid committee to meet their full financial needs. This is in addition to the standard financial aid documents, such as the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, as well as supporting documents for the family income and other financial information.
Other tips on maximizing financial aid when applying to colleges that meet full financial need are:
- File the FAFSA as early as possible (i.e., after October 1), primarily because many federal loans and aid are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Minimize your family’s taxable income, if applicable, in the base year, such as deferring cash bonuses and avoiding early 401(k) or IRA withdrawals.
- Apply for financial aid even when you believe that your family income won’t qualify you for it. Fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile!
- Highlight your merits since the demonstrated financial need isn’t all there is to the best financial aid packages. In institutions that value the skills, talents, and experiences of students, the financial aid package becomes even more attractive.
US Colleges Meeting Full Financial Need
The colleges that meet a full financial need among their full-time accepted students featured here offer generous financial aid packages that include scholarships, grants, and work-study schemes. The financial aid packages don’t include student loans, unsubsidized federal loans, private loans, and parent PLUS loans.
Many schools featured here belong to the Ivy League, too, such as Harvard University, Princeton University, and Brown University. This means that, indeed, you can get an Ivy League education without getting up to your neck in student loan debt!
Attending college at Harvard seems like a pipe dream for lower-income students – the total cost of attendance is $80,263-$84,413 (2022-2023), excluding the $4,080 health insurance. Fortunately, Harvard is among the best colleges that meet the full financial needs of eligible students!
Most students receive financial aid, while 55% of students are recipients of Harvard scholarships. More than 22% of Harvard families get a free ride, too, and 100% of its student’s graduate loan-free. Families with less than $75,000 in family income also have their demonstrated financial needs met.
Harvard also adopts a need-blind admissions process, meaning the student’s financial needs and aid application won’t affect their admission application. Financial aid is awarded based on the candidate’s demonstrated financial need instead of merit, with financial aid counselors working on a one-on-one basis with every student and their family.
The Griffin Financial Aid Office also conducts regular reconsiderations of the awarded financial aid package throughout the year for families whose financial need has changed.
With its need-based aid and loan-free policies, no wonder that Harvard is a sought-after elite university among the best and brightest! With these policies, Harvard also has the country’s highest graduate rate – a whopping 98%, not to mention that its graduates are sought-after by employers.
Yet another of the Ivy League colleges that meet fully demonstrated financial need is Brown University, among the most selective colleges that ensure personalized attention with its 6:1 student-faculty ratio. Brown also adopts need-blind admission and meets eligible students’ demonstrated financial need in total, thanks to the Brown Promise initiative. The generous financial aid package doesn’t contain student loans due to the no loans policy, meaning students are likely to graduate loan-free.
Students with a yearly family income of less than $60,000 have zero expected family contribution/parent contribution. Such are the generous financial need-based aid policies that 50% of Brown’s Class of 2026 received a scholarship and/or grant based on their demonstrated financial need!
Brown encourages its lower-income students to also explore external sources of financial aid, such as state and private scholarships. Note that private scholarships won’t decrease the number of institutional scholarships unless in specific circumstances, particularly when these funds exceed the summer and work-study earnings portion in the financial aid package.
With innovative movers and shakers in its roster of faculty members, past and present, Stanford University is among the most selective colleges – less than 5% of applicants are accepted. But the cost of attendance can be prohibitive – $$66,924 (2022-2023) in tuition alone – and getting in is only half the battle with Stanford’s notoriously rigorous academics. Fortunately, Stanford University is among the elite colleges that meet eligible students’ full financial needs, and being a “duck” becomes easier.
Admitted students will find that Stanford’s need-based financial aid program makes it possible for admitted students to earn their degrees in six years or less. Stanford University has among the country’s highest graduation rates at 96%, and many of its graduates have founded technology titans, including Google, Cisco, and Yahoo.
Stanford uses its own institutional aid formula in reviewing every student’s financial circumstances and in determining their need-based aid, as well as the expected family contribution if any. The average amount of financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants for freshmen (Class 2025) is $62,557, inclusive of $57,495 in federal, state, and private financial aid packages.
Note that Stanford University doesn’t require students with a family income of less than $150,000 per year to pay tuition. Parents earning an annual income of less than $75,000 aren’t expected to contribute to their children’s college costs.
Yet another of the Ivy League colleges that meet 100% of eligible students’ demonstrated financial need is Princeton University, where over 80% of its graduates are loan-free! Furthermore, graduates earn $96,000 in median annual salaries and, thus, are able to recoup their college costs much faster than average.
Princeton University has a need-based aid program that enables students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy an Ivy League education. The simple calculation for the expected family contribution makes Princeton’s financial aid packages among the most transparent, too.
Most families with annual income above $100,000 will be required to contribute 25% of the excess over $100,000 in addition to 5% of assets, with the exception of their primary residence and retirement accounts.
The difference between the family contribution and the cost of attendance will be met by Princeton University, too. With its no-loan policy, student loans are a rarity at Princeton – grants are used to meet financial needs instead. Note that Princeton doesn’t have merit scholarships.
For the Class of 2025, the average student grant was $62,200, while the cost of attendance was $79,540 (2022-2023).
With its competitive admissions process – only about 7% of applicants are accepted – MIT is among the toughest schools to get into and earn a college degree from. Once admitted, students must also consider the cost of attendance, amounting to nearly $80,000 per academic year.
Fortunately, MIT is also among the elite colleges that meet 100% of demonstrated financial need among eligible students, notably lower-income students.
MIT adopts a need-blind admission process, too, and offers full-need financial aid for admitted students. The financial aid package meets 100% of every student’s demonstrated financial need and consists of scholarships, grants, and on-campus employment.
The financial aid process also makes it easy for MIT students to find the best possible financial aid package. Every student has a financial aid counselor that reviews the financial aid options and guides them through the process.
The cost of attendance – nearly $86,000 per academic year – at Columbia University is among the highest in the Ivy League, partly because of its strategic location in New York City. But it’s a hugely popular elite school, nonetheless, because of its challenging Core Curriculum, brilliant faculty members, and exceptional graduate outcomes.
The good news: Columbia University is one of the elite colleges that meet 100% of its qualifying students’ demonstrated financial needs! Students, notably lower-income students with annual family income and typical assets of less than $150,000, can attend tuition-free and even loan-free.
Incoming freshmen low-income students are eligible for a $2,000 start-up grant that aids in their college transition. The average need-based aid at Columbia is $63,971, with nearly 50% of admitted students receiving grants.
Columbia University uses both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile in determining the financial aid package that each eligible student may receive. Students may also be required to submit other income documentation, like parental tax returns, to the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) platform.
Recognized as among the world’s top academic institutions, Northwestern University is also among the best colleges that meet 100% of their students’ demonstrated financial need. These aren’t student loans either, as there’s no need to pay them back.
Indeed, such generous need-based aid is welcome among low-income students and their families! The cost of attendance at Northwestern is an estimated $87,800 per academic year. Northwestern, however, awards over $200 million in need-based financial aid to its undergraduate students. Note, too, that Northwestern doesn’t have merit-based scholarships.
The financial aid process takes into account the unique financial circumstances that every student and their family face. Northwestern uses both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile in the determination of financial need.
Known for its lengthy list of innovations borne of its research-centric philosophy, Johns Hopkins University has the best pre-med, science and engineering programs. But with excellent college education comes a prohibitive price tag – more than $80,000 per year – but since JHU is among the colleges that meet 100% of demonstrated financial needs among eligible students, it’s more affordable than you think.
JHU adopts a need-blind admissions process, too, for applicants who are US citizens and eligible non-citizens, permanent residents, and with DACA status. International applicants are considered on a need-aware policy. Eligible students for need-based financial aid must demonstrate their limited financial capacity to pay the cost of attendance, whether only part or none of it. JHU will then cover the difference via scholarships and work-study opportunities.
The average need-based aid awarded to freshmen students is $59,000, with 54% receiving need-based scholarships amounting to more than $156 million. JHU has several scholarship programs, too, including the Hopkins Scholarships, Cummings Scholars Program, and Westgate Scholarship.
With its high 90% graduation rate and excellent graduate outcomes, Davidson College is also popular for its need-blind policies, where students’ financial resources aren’t considered in the admissions process. Students enjoy a personalized financial aid package without student loans, although availing of federal student loans and private loans is a personal choice. Less than one in five freshmen students avail of federal student loans.
This is made possible through the Davidson Trust, which meets 100% of eligible students’ demonstrated financial needs through scholarships, grants, and student employment. The Davidson Trust is kept alive through donations from alumni and other donors.
Davidson College uses an institutional financial aid formula that partly relies on financial information gathered from the student’s FAFSA and CSS Profile documents.
With one of the highest endowment-to-student ratios among liberal arts colleges in the country, Grinnell College has the financial capacity to meet the full financial need of eligible students! This works in its favor, too, thanks to increased socioeconomic diversity in its student population, among others.
Students who have demonstrated financial need can graduate loan-free, thanks to a combination of scholarships, grants, and work-study arrangements. The financial aid process, however, varies based on the student’s citizenship status.