50-50 Highlights: Accessible, Quality Colleges for Merit Aid Opportunities

Woman with money looking at computer for college merit aidAs I work with college data, I learn about different variables and add them to my data sets. I also occasionally create a variable to more accurately capture a concept or value that I think is important when trying to figure out how much college will cost. This is why you’ll see multiple posts on some variation of a list of colleges with the best financial aid. And because of the variation,  you’ll always find some colleges on one list and not another.  Well, I’m adding another list of colleges to consider for merit aid.

What’s different about this list is that I’m taking into consideration PLUS loans which I have only recently added to the DIY College Rankings Search Spreadsheet. As I’ve discussed before, PLUS loans are often overlooked when comparing colleges.

I’ve also created a new variable, the ratio of average institutional grants to the total cost of attendance. In the past I used $15,000 as a minimum for identifying generous schools. However, that doesn’t take into account colleges that have a lower cost of attendance. Ten thousand dollars goes a lot further at a school that charges $38,000 than at a school that costs $58,000 to attend. This also brings in more public universities for consideration, although it only applies to in-state residents.

What to Look For

I’ve combined these variables with others I usually consider to generate the list of 50-50 colleges below that are likely to be affordable college options for those looking for merit aid. To make the list, at least 90% of freshman receive institutional aid.  I also required the average net price to be less than $30,000 because averages above $30,000 indicate pricey colleges even with aid.

Instead of using a $15,000 minimum average institutional grant, I included only schools where the average institutional aid represents at least 35% of the total cost of attendance for in-state students. There are five schools on the list that met this percentage even though the average grant was less than $15,000, including the only public institution, the University of Vermont.

PLUS Loans are a Warning Sign

The last qualification for this affordable college list was to have 15% or less of full-time undergraduates have PLUS loans originated on their behalf during the past year. If a lot of parents are taking out loans then the college probably isn’t as affordable as it would seem.

These requirements left me with a list of 81 colleges. With the exception of the University of Vermont, they are smaller, private colleges. At least 30 of them don’t require an application fee. The colleges are located in 31 states. The majority are in the Great Lakes, Plains, or Southeastern regions of the country.

Some of these colleges don’t have a very high percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants. Others have a high percentage of freshman receiving non-federal loans.  And none of them are a sure thing for merit money. But for those with low financial need looking for affordable college alternatives, these 50-50 schools are worth further investigation. As usual, the 4 year graduation rate is used for private colleges and the 5 year rate for public.

50-50 Colleges: Accessible, Quality Colleges for Merit Aid Opportunities


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List of affordable college possibilities for merit award that accept at least 50% of students and have at least a 50% graduation rate.

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