Why Your Best Financial Aid Will Probably Come From a College No One Has Ever Heard Of

Never-heard-of-it-200I’ve reviewed multiple college search websites and searching by size is always an option. Size is probably one of the first limitations students use when searching for colleges, often based on little to no real experience or evidence. And if you’re interested in getting the best financial aid possible, this is a big mistake.

The Majority of Colleges are Small

Actually, it’s really just a mistake if you’re looking only at schools with 5,000 or more students. Why? Because you’ve just eliminated approximately 3/4 of all colleges from consideration. Of the 1,586 public and private (non-profit) colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, 74% have 5,000 or fewer undergraduates.

It’s basically a numbers game. If the majority of colleges have 5,000 or fewer students, that means the majority of colleges that offer financial aid are going to be small as well. Furthermore, if you consider that students are more likely to get merit aid from private schools, the chances are even greater it will be from a smaller school. There are only 84 private colleges with more than 5,000 full-time undergraduates compared to 332 public institutions.

And since the colleges are small, they are going to have fewer alumni interacting with the rest of the world, so fewer people will have ever heard of the college.

Therefore: the Majority of Colleges with the Best Financial Aid are Small

This isn’t meant to pass judgement on which is better, large or small schools. The four-year graduation rate for private colleges with under 5,000 students ranges from less than 6% to 92%. Private colleges with 5,000 or more undergraduates have graduation rates from 8% to 91%.

This is about finding merit money. Of the 84 private colleges with 5,000 or more students, only 22 have a graduation rate of 50% or better with an average net price of less than $30,000. Among the 831 smaller private schools, 248 have a 50% or better graduation rate with an average net price of less than $30,000.

Ultimately, if families are really serious about finding the best financial aid deal, they can’t afford to rule out small colleges. The following table shows the number of colleges by size for each state.

Number of Colleges with 500 or More Full-Time Undergraduates by Size and State


Explains why students will often get the best financial aid at smaller colleges.

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