Anyone who has been paying attention to college costs and financial aid has probably heard that there really isn’t one set sticker price for college. It’s a lot like airline tickets. People sitting next to each other on a flight probably paid very different amounts for their tickets depending on when they bought them. Like airline tickets, very few families actually pay the sticker price for college.
Yet, it’s really a pretty simplistic comparison because comparing college prices is a lot harder. After all, airline ticket prices may fluctuate but the number you see is the one you’ll actually pay. Well, ok, unless you want to check a bag, leave from an airport with extra fees, or have to pay a fuel surcharge. But no one is offering you a loan to pay for the ticket and then claiming to have reduced the cost of the flight.
Furthermore, some colleges like to advertise large “coupons” as a way to convince students to apply. An average award of $20,000 sounds a lot better than $10,000. That is until you compare it to a base price of $60,000 versus $40,000. And the lack of consistency among college financial aid award letters doesn’t make the process any easier.
Colleges with the Biggest Coupons
So for this week’s 50-50 college list, I’m going to look at schools that offer the highest institutional aid as a percentage of tuition. However, don’t take this as a definitive list of 50-50 colleges offering the best aid. The institutional aid is the average amount of money awarded to freshman receiving aid. At some schools, less than 40% of all freshman receive aid.
Also remember that institutional aid includes both need-based and merit aid. I cover more on their differences here. Like I said, figuring out airline ticket prices is easy compared to this. Take the following list as just one way of identifying potentially generous schools.
How Many People Get the Coupons?
You really need to also consider the percentage of freshman receiving institutional awards. When I selected the top 20% of schools with the highest average institutional award as a percentage of tuition and those with the highest percentage of freshman receiving awards, there wasn’t a lot of overlap between the two lists. Only 12 of 33 public schools made both lists. Of the 77 private colleges where all freshman receive institutional aid, only 24 made the top 20% of those with the highest institutional award as a percentage of tuition.
The following lists show the top 20% of 50-50 Colleges in terms of institutional aid as a percentage of total cost. As usual, the 4-year graduation rate is used for private colleges and the 5-year rate for public institutions.
Colleges With the Highest Institutional Aid