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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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
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College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 7/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


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A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.

Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.

Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
If you are unable to pay your government loan, the government can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount. In addition, the government has special powers to collect the loan, such as taking your tax refund and applying it to your loan balance.

A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If you refinance your government loan, your new lender will use the proceeds of your new loan to pay off your government loan. Private student loan lenders do not have to honor any of the benefits that apply to government loans. Because your government loan will be gone after refinancing, you will lose any benefits that apply to that loan. If you are an active-duty service member, your new loan will not be eligible for service member benefits. Most importantly, once you refinance your government loan, you will not able to reinstate your government loan if you become dissatisfied with the terms of your private student loan.

If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you are a borrower with a secure job, emergency savings, strong credit and are unlikely to need any of the options available to distressed borrowers of government loans, a refinance of your government loans into a private student loan may be attractive to you. You should consider the costs and benefits of refinancing carefully before you refinance.

If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.

Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.


5 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown ARE FOR THE UNDERGRADUATE LOAN AND include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest INTEREST RATE OFFERED ON THE DISCOVER UNDERGRADUATE LOAN and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.50% as of July 1, 2019. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit https://www.discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates.html for more information about interest rates.
3.99% – 11.44%1Undergraduate and Graduate

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3.96%
11.98%
3
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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3.87%
11.87%
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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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