50 U.S. Colleges With the Most Generous Financial Aid Packages

 October 29, 2018
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When it comes to choosing an affordable college, sticker price can be deceiving. The cost of attending a college is just one factor that impacts what a student must pay or borrow to enroll. The financial aid package a college offers students to help cover educational expenses is just as important.

Our new study surveyed student aid awarded at 1,244 U.S. colleges to find the schools that offer the most financial assistance to students in need. We found that the average financial aid package offered to students with a financial need at U.S. colleges is an impressive $20,494.

Some colleges provide far more assistance than that, thanks mostly to institutional aid such as scholarships and grants. Here, we highlight the 50 top colleges in the U.S. that provide the most financial aid to their students who need help.

Key Findings


  • The average value of financial aid packages was $47,895 among the top 50 schools. That’s more than 2.3 times the average among all 1,244 schools surveyed.
  • The gap between aid packages charts with higher costs. The average annual tuition and fees across all 1,244 colleges was $24,042. Among the top 50 schools, the average was $49,702.
  • All 50 of these top schools are private colleges or universities. Additionally, all Ivy League schools made the list, with Columbia University leading the pack by offering aid packages averaging $55,521.
  • Of the top 50 colleges with the largest financial aid packages, 46 reported meeting the full demonstrated financial need for every qualifying student.

10 U.S. colleges awarding the most financial aid


For this study, we used data from Peterson’s to identify U.S. colleges offering the largest financial aid packages to students in need.

These financial aid packages include all forms of financial assistance awarded to students. The numbers reflect federal, college-provided, and private student aid. They also include gift aid, such as grants and scholarships, as well as federal and private student loans.

We also include the following stats for each school:

1. Columbia University in New York City

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $55,521
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,973
  • Students whose full financial need was met: 99%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $55,056

As stated on its site, Columbia University meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need of its first-year and transfer students. Parents of families who have a combined income of less than $60,000 aren’t expected to contribute to the cost of attendance.

2. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $52,894
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,732

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $49,480

On its site, Yale University says that it meets 100% of financial need without student loans. It puts its own average need-based scholarship at $49,575 for the 2017-2018 school year.

If a Yale student’s family has an annual household income under $65,000 plus typical assets, they’re not expected to pay any college costs out of pocket.

3. Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $51,890
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 1,014

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $51,790

Williams College is committed to meeting 100% of each student’s financial need, according to the school’s website. It awards over $50 million in institutional aid to its students each year.

4. Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $51,775
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 1,066

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $52,476

Amherst College is another school that seeks to meet 100% of both domestic and international students’ financial need. In fact, we included it in another report highlighting colleges that have the best financial aid packages.

Amherst College awards $50 million in scholarships each year. This help students pay for college while relying less on student loans. Seven out of 10 graduates in Amherst’s Class of 2017 graduated without student debt. Compare that to the 75% of students who did after graduating from a private nonprofit college.

5. Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $51,308
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 3,687

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $47,074

Getting into this famed school can be hard enough. Fortunately, students get plenty of help figuring out how to pay for a Harvard University degree.

Roughly 6 out of 10 Harvard University students receive a need-based scholarship, the college reports. Students who come from a family with an annual income below $65,000 pay nothing out of pocket for their education. About 20% of students aren’t expected to contribute to their education.

6. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $50,820
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 1,548

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $53,090

All Vassar College students with family incomes of or below $270,000 received gift aid of some kind this past academic year, according to the school.

Like other colleges on this list, it’s no accident that Vassar meets the full financial need for 100% of its students. Providing full aid is one of the college’s stated goals.

7. Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $50,710
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 33

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 89%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $48,775

Webb Institute offers a full-tuition scholarship to all enrolled students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. This school of engineering also offers additional need-based aid to cover other attendance costs, such as room and board, which totaled $14,750 during the 2017-2018 school year.

8. Duke University in Durham, North Carolina

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $50,312
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,651

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $51,265

Duke University also meets 100% of all admitted students’ financial need, according to its financial aid website.

Families with household incomes at or below $60,000 aren’t expected to pay college costs out of pocket. Even a student whose family is expected to contribute around $20,000 to college could still receive around $45,510 in need-based grants.

9. University of Chicago

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $49,967
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 2,483

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $52,491

The University of Chicago offers to cover the demonstrated financial need for all students “through a combination of grants, scholarships, and work expectations.”

Of the University of Chicago’s 2016 graduates who left college with student debt, the average balance was a relatively manageable $23,852, according to Collegedata.

10. Colgate University in Hamilton, New York

  • Average financial aid package for students with financial need: $49,912
  • Undergraduate students receiving gift aid: 1,047

  • Students whose full financial need was met: 100%
  • Annual tuition and fees: $51,955

Of the average aid awarded to students who qualify for need-based assistance at Colgate University, just $2,500 comes in the form of student loans, according to the university’s website. The majority of aid ($46,775) came in the form of a school grant. The university is committed to covering the full financial need for every one of its students.

The 50 colleges that offer the most student aid


These private colleges offer competitive student aid packages despite high enrollment costs. Annual tuition and fees are over $47,000 for nearly all 50 colleges. Compare these costs to the average in-state tuition and fees at a public college, which comes to $9,970.

With such huge price tags, many students would struggle to afford these colleges on their own. Fortunately, these private colleges offer millions of dollars in institutional aid, grants, and scholarships to help cover costs. In fact, none of the top 50 colleges have financial aid packages below $45,000.

Below is a list of the 50 U.S. colleges that provide the largest financial aid packages, ranked by the size of the average financial aid package awarded.

Rank College Average financial aid package Annual tuition and fees Students receiving need-based aid Students whose full need was met
1 Columbia University $55,521 $55,056 2,973 99%
2 Yale University $52,894 $49,480 2,732 100%
3 Williams College $51,890 $51,790 1,014 100%
4 Amherst College $51,775 $52,476 1,066 100%
5 Harvard University $51,308 $47,074 3,687 100%
6 Vassar College $50,820 $53,090 1,548 100%
7 Webb Institute $50,710 $48,775 33 89%
8 Duke University $50,312 $51,265 2,651 100%
9 University of Chicago $49,967 $52,491 2,483 100%
10 Colgate University $49,912 $51,955 1,047 100%
11 Princeton University $49,502 $45,320 3,126 100%
12 Haverford College $49,186 $51,024 629 100%
13 Dartmouth College $49,141 $51,438 2,097 100%
14 Stanford University $49,124 $47,940 3,255 100%
15 Barnard College $49,012 $50,394 998 100%
16 Georgetown University $48,999 $50,547 2,400 100%
17 Brown University $48,420 $53,419 2,702 100%
18 University of Southern California $48,399 $52,992 6,128 100%
19 Washington and Lee University $48,392 $49,254 771 100%
20 Smith College $48,115 $50,044 1,459 100%
21 Pomona College $48,034 $49,352 917 100%
22 Middlebury College $48,000 $50,063 1,085 100%
23 University of Notre Dame $47,884 $49,685 3,997 100%
24 Trinity College $47,679 $52,760 976 100%
25 Wellesley College $47,527 $48,802 1,361 100%
26 Swarthmore College $47,255 $50,822 867 100%
27 Wake Forest University $47,228 $51,400 1,449 100%
28 Franklin & Marshall College $47,144 $52,490 1,186 100%
29 Wesleyan University $47,077 $52,474 1,206 100%
30 Hamilton College $47,003 $51,240 892 100%
31 Vanderbilt University $46,938 $45,610 3,121 100%
32 Occidental College $46,791 $51,070 1,137 100%
33 University of Pennsylvania $46,707 $53,534 4,445 100%
34 Cornell University $46,339 $50,953 6,390 100%
35 Claremont McKenna College $46,129 $50,950 523 100%
36 California Institute of Technology $46,095 $47,577 500 100%
37 The Colorado College $46,024 $50,892 647 100%
38 Skidmore College $45,900 $50,684 1,070 94%
39 Bryn Mawr College $45,900 $50,500 721 100%
40 University of Richmond $45,784 $50,910 1,308 100%
41 Carleton College $45,763 $50,874 1,147 100%
42 Grinnell College $45,717 $50,464 1,122 100%
43 Lafayette College $45,615 721 100%
44 Northwestern University $45,505 $50,855 3,547 100%
45 Bates College $45,494 $50,310 774 100%
46 Pitzer College $45,338 $50,430 406 100%
47 Colby College $45,306 $50,960 783 100%
48 Tulane University $45,124 $51,010 2,080 96%
49 Reed College $45,050 $52,150 725 100%
50 Davidson College $45,001 $50,444 864 100%

How to get a bigger financial aid award

Overall, this study shows that a high price tag doesn’t always put a college out of financial reach for a prospective student. College applicants and students can take steps to try to access more aid.

First, weigh the pros and cons of applying early for college. Many of the colleges on this list set early decision deadlines in November for the following school year.

Applying early can give you an edge in getting admitted and receiving more financial aid. But applying through early decision could mean you’re committing to attend one college without having all the information on hand. And keep in mind that many of these colleges require additional forms, such as the CSS Profile, to apply for student aid.

Many colleges set their own definitions and methods for determining your financial need. That means you might qualify for more aid at one college than another. That’s why it’s important to use financial aid award letters to compare what each college can offer you.

The rankings in this study can also highlight colleges that go above and beyond to help students cover educational costs. If you’re considering one of these 50 colleges, you can feel confident that it’ll likely provide assistance to meet your need for student aid.

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