These 7 Colleges Have the Best Financial Aid (So You Can Avoid Student Debt)

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In the 2015-2016 school year, the average college student received $14,460 in financial aid, according to College Board’s “Trends in Student Aid” report. Some colleges even meet the full financial need of every accepted student.

Your financial need, by the way, is the difference between your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the cost of tuition.

So you’ll still pay what you can toward tuition, but the college will cover the rest with a mix of grants, scholarships, and work-study. If your EFC is $0, you could even get completely free college tuition.

Here are seven schools that might cover your full financial need and some tips on how to get the best financial aid package possible.

1. Amherst College

Amherst distributes more than $50 million in scholarships every year. The Massachusetts college prides itself on its ability to support students through grants, scholarships, and work-study.

“The most rewarding part of the work that we get to do is to provide the resources that truly make an Amherst education affordable,” said Gail Holt, dean of financial aid, in Amherst’s financial aid welcome video.

The college’s average financial aid award is more than $50,000. As a result, three in four Amherst grads in the Class of 2015 left school with no student loan debt whatsoever. If you have major financial need, you could get completely free college tuition.

To qualify for all this aid, you’ll need to make it through Amherst’s selective admissions process. The college lets just 14 percent of applicants in every year.

2. Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College also meets 100 percent of student’s demonstrated need. Almost half of Bowdoin’s Class of 2018 received financial aid, with the average grant amounting to more than $40,000.

“Bowdoin is committed to affordability,” wrote Whitney Soule, dean of admission and financial aid. “Nearly half of our enrolled students receive grant assistance from Bowdoin and the college stands firm in its decision to eliminate student loans from financial aid packages.”

This small college in Brunswick, Maine, enrolls about 500 students each year. Bowdoin accepts just over 13 percent of applicants.

3. Claremont McKenna College

If you’d rather go to school in California, check out Claremont McKenna. This liberal arts college has about 7,500 students, and it meets the financial need of every one of them.

Its financial aid awards include need-based grants, merit-based scholarships, and federal work-study. Since Claremont McKenna doesn’t include loans in its awards, students with major financial need will get free college tuition.

4. Pomona College

Pomona College is another California school committed to need-based financial aid and an affordable — if not free — education. About 67 percent of its students receive financial aid and 57 percent get need-based scholarships.

To estimate your EFC, check out the school’s MyinTuition Cost Calculator. This tool will estimate how much you would need to pay to attend. The college should cover the rest.

5. Stanford University

As of 2016, this California university’s endowment totaled $22.4 billion. With these resources at its fingertips, Stanford can offer generous financial aid packages, along with free college education to some students.

According to the university website, they “meet the full demonstrated need, without loans, for every admitted undergrad who qualifies for financial assistance.” By meeting full need, Stanford’s financial aid office is committed to its goal of “making a world-class education possible.”

6. University of Chicago

With its No Barriers program, the University of Chicago ensures students with financial need graduate debt-free.

“We will work with your family to create a comprehensive aid package that fits your circumstances and ensures that a UChicago education is within your reach,” reads the university’s website.

The average University of Chicago applicant with financial need receives $45,500 in scholarships each year. The financial aid office has a $135 million budget to meet the full need of every student, even offering a free education to some. It also provides funded opportunities, like internships, study abroad, and career exploration treks.

7. Most of the ‘Ivies’

There are eight Ivy League colleges: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennslyvania, and Yale. Since these schools all have big endowments, they offer generous aid packages.

Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale meet the full financial aid need of students. They cover any gap between your EFC and the cost of tuition with grants and work-study.

Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell also cover financial need, but they might offer loans to do so. If your parents’ income exceeds $100,000, for instance, Brown or Dartmouth might offer loans as part of your financial aid package. Cornell includes a loan in your award if your parents’ income is greater than $60,000.

All the Ivy League schools have need-blind admissions, and they will help low-income students by providing free or nearly free college tuition. But a few might ask you to take on student debt to attend.

More colleges that meet full financial aid

These are just a few of the schools that meet full financial aid need. As you can tell, many of them have selective admissions standards. To get in, you’ll likely need top grades, strong test scores, and a record of community involvement.

But if you get accepted, you won’t have to worry about finances holding you back. You might even score a completely free education.

For more colleges that meet financial need, check out this list from U.S. News. Since each college is different, make sure to call or email financial aid offices to learn about their policies.

How to get the most financial aid

Before you can get any financial aid, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA opens in the fall of your senior year. Since aid is often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, file the FAFSA as soon as possible.

Plus, consider applying to schools with a generous financial aid policy. As your offers start rolling in, you can compare aid packages to see which school is most affordable. Maybe you’ll even have an opportunity for a free college education.

Finally, spend time applying for outside scholarships. There are a number of scholarship search engines to help you locate both local and national grants.

By being strategic during college application season, you can make sure you get the most financial aid possible for college. For even more tips, check out what this financial aid expert has to say about applying for financial aid.

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