Families that can’t afford to pay the sticker-price for private colleges need to do two things. The first is identify which schools are more likely to provide need or merit aid. The second is avoid those that are less likely to do so. This means steering clear of “dream” schools that may rank in terms of prestige but subsequently aren’t as generous with financial aid as some of their peers.
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The list below shows 31 private colleges and universities that admit less than half of all applicants and where less than half of freshman receive grants from the institution according to the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System in the DIY College Search Spreadsheet. Based on an average endowment per student of $290,000 (the average for private colleges is just over $76,000), it doesn’t look like most of these schools are hurting for money.
They Get to Define “Need”
Most of the schools claim to meet 100% of demonstrated need. According to CollegeData.com, 28 report meeting 91% or more of need. However, given that the average percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants is less than 15%, you would expect nothing less. Yet there is evidence that “less” might actually be the case since at 16 of the colleges, the average net price for students with incomes of less than $30,000 is over $8,000*. Remember, when a school claims to meet 100% of financial need, they get to count subsidized loans as part of meeting need.
Now it could be that they just don’t get as many students with demonstrated financial need as other institutions. Or it could be that these are schools where being a full-paying student is its own admissions “hook.” After all, based on the Average Net Price for Families with income over $110,000, these schools aren’t very generous with their merit aid either.
Opportunities for Merit Aid are Slim
Of the 27 schools that post their Common Data Sets, ten did not award any merit aid to students without need. At eleven of the schools, fewer than 10 percent of students without need received merit aid. Only two colleges, Scripps and Spelman, awarded merit aid to more than 30% of students without any need. I suspect the ones that didn’t report the data are probably not giving away significant merit aid.
In general, these colleges and universities don’t seem particularly interested in attracting students with substantial need to their campus. Given that all but four are ranked in the top 50 of US News Best National College rankings, they don’t have any shortage of well-qualified applicants applying. And students should expect to pay for the privilege of applying, 17 have application fees of $70 or more, with five over $80. Only three were listed under $50.
Of course, all of this data doesn’t necessarily mean that a student with a full-pay hook is more likely to be admitted at these institutions. But you can’t help but think it might be a necessary requirement to actually attend.
If any of these colleges appeal to you, one thing you can do is to explore similar alternatives. You can go to www.collegeresults.org, enter the college in the search field, and then click on the similar colleges tab. You’ll probably need to expand the list to at least 25 colleges to find other possibilities that are likely to provide more financial assistance.
Will these schools rank as high in the US News and World Report College Rankings? No.
The question is where do they rank in your personal college rankings?
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31 Possible Colleges for Full-Pay Students
*There are significant limitations with the average net price by income data. First, remember that the definition is based only on those students who receive some sort of federal aid, including student loans. Students who receive only institutional aid wouldn’t be included in these numbers. However, we know that these schools don’t award much merit aid to student without need. Therefore, these averages are likely at the lower end of what most families in the highest income category could expect to pay.