Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need Depending on How You Define Need

Chained moneyProbably the biggest shock families experience as they consider their college options is finding out how much they’re expected to pay for college. But I think a close second would be how few colleges are actually able to meet the family’s admittedly flawed calculated need. According to the US New Best College Rankings, only 62 out of over 1,100 colleges and universities claim to meet 100% of a student’s financial need.

If a family is able to show financial need, good luck in finding a school the will actually cover it.

And ultimately, they aren’t very likely to get into one of these select few because, well, most of them are one of the select few. As US News points out, “only two of the schools aren’t top-50 finishers in their categories” for college rankings. Just one school among the top 20 in the National University and Nation Liberal Arts categories doesn’t meet 100% of need.

You just can’t help but think, “wow, prestigious and generous too, no wonder they’re such great schools!”

Actually, I have to admit, I can help myself.

Why? Because of the 61 of 62 schools I have data for (missing for Thomas Aquinas), 28 had an average net price after gift aid of over $10,000 for families with incomes of $30,000 or less. Only nine had an average of less than $5,000 for this category. There are 443 colleges and universities that have an average net price of $10,000 or less for the lowest income category-only 33 among the 62 schools claiming to meet 100% of need. Does that sound like meeting full need to you?

It didn’t sound like it to The Chronicle of Higher Education either as they explain “It’s Hard to Tell What Low-Income Students Pay at Wealthy Private Colleges. Here’s Why.” While examining how affordable various elite colleges were for low-income students, they found that some schools report the average net price based on income categories using their own institutional methodology rather than the federal methodology. That’s why The Chronicle of Higher Education found such large differences between two similarly situation schools, Pomona and Swarthmore.

Get it? There are colleges that don’t like the federal methodology and use their own institutional methodology for awarding their own money. Fine, their money, their choice. But instead of classifying students according to the federal methodology for reporting purposes, they decide to continue to use their own methodology even though they know how the government classifies the students.

Wonder why they do that? Maybe it’s because if they don’t, their average net price comes out to $10,793 like it did for Swarthmore as oppose to the $2,751 Pomona reported. Why on earth do these schools think they’re entitled to use their own definitions that makes it impossible to compare schools when reporting to the government? Oh, right, because it makes it impossible to compare schools.

Chances are that most of the schools claiming to meet 100% of need are using their own special definition of income categories and need since 57 require students to submit the PROFILE as part of their financial aid application. That’s the application that wants to know your home equity which the FAFSA doesn’t and maybe the year and make of the care you’re driving. Of those using the PROFILE, 53 also require the Non-custodial supplement. Yes, the income categories are going to be defined differently.

Furthermore, this is the form that low-income students don’t find out if they qualify for the fee waiver until after they submit their application. Maybe that’s why there are so few freshman receiving Pell Grants at these schools. In fact, half of the schools wouldn’t meet the Education Trust’s proposed bottom-line standards for the minimum percentage of freshman with Pell Grants.

Now I know that some would argue that colleges simply can’t admit more poor students if they’re going to meet 100% of financial need, no matter how they may decide to define it. Well then, how about we just compare these elite schools among themselves? And let’s avoid the entire income category issues. Let’s take a look at the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants compared to the average endowment per student.

The percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants ranges from a mere 6% at Washington University in St. Louis with an average endowment per student $389,597 to a high of 44% at Bethany College with an average endowment per student of $41,349.

Bethany too much of an unknown school for you to use for comparisons? Then how about Grinnell and Amherst which both have 20% or more freshman with Pell Grants and average endowments of less than $1,000,000 per student yet still have lower average net prices for low-income students than Princeton and Yale which only have 12% of freshman receiving Pell Grants and two of the highest average endowments per student at 2.1 million and 1.4 million each?

Now you know why US News introduces the list of colleges as those that “claim” to meet 100% of need and why I’m not necessarily impressed with their generosity.

Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need
(Self-Reported to US News College Rankings)

per Student
% Freshman
Pell Grants
Gift Aid
Family Income $0-$30,000
Avg Net
Price Family
Amherst College84964620473614
Barnard College91481204210190
Bates College12316612259095
Bethany College41349442817499
Boston College1175571215715564
Bowdoin College50467812224936
Brown University30096415525404
Bryn Mawr College360818171812505
California Institute of Technology80368111136444
Carleton College329080142710770
Carroll University12084279417163
Claremont McKenna College394680101414394
Colby College32942711910039
Colgate University23479311268864
College of the Holy Cross188304185810741
Columbia University in the City of New York298827166812018
Cornell University180466171869980
Dartmouth College55862613268094
Davidson College266142122212699
Duke University34397514683813
Franklin and Marshall College11098017449802
Georgetown University75141161189122
Grinnell College83264525588370
Hamilton College37898413327025
Harvard University120845618622880
Harvey Mudd College288006131310022
Haverford College30921514187021
Johns Hopkins University124124136712168
Macalester College313789183011062
Massachusetts Institute of Technology94309317604995
Middlebury College25002010148846
Mount Holyoke College231506183612273
Northwestern University2945321414015633
Oberlin College23902792310914
Occidental College147117205213482
Pitzer College104359101518613
Pomona College107119916232751
Princeton University215422712708322
Rice University69631617796841
Scripps College260646111713124
Smith College435513206813638
Stanford University112410516804501
Swarthmore College957072172410793
Trinity College185048101411109
Tufts University121300117110742
United States Merchant Marine Academy992450
University of Chicago437427118513267
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill76227203475376
University of Notre Dame511233128315116
University of Pennsylvania276355171057578
University of Richmond44339515529098
University of Southern California1017722029114338
University of Virginia-Main Campus196338121484405
Vanderbilt University28647314887364
Vassar College33096723436595
Washington and Lee University604482112013741
Washington University in St Louis3895976386614
Wellesley College55903417479316
Wesleyan University18780721567755
Williams College81228819546186
Yale University140646012707852
  1. […] Merit money is awarded by colleges to attract students to the college. Not all institutions provide merit money. The top ranked private colleges and universities generally do not provide merit money since they easily attract the country’s best students. Such schools claim that all of their students are academically talented and therefore only provide need-based financial aid. […]

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