11 Colleges Frugal with Financial Aid

picture of locked money representing expensive collegesSometime ago, I listed 15 schools to avoid if you’re making a list of affordable colleges. After all, just as there are colleges that are known for their generosity, there are expensive colleges that you should avoid if you’re looking for significant help in cutting the cost of college. Since I’ve just recently updated the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet, I’ve decided to revisit the list and see if the composition has changed much. And yes, there have been some changes.

Instead of 15 colleges to avoid, I’m down to 11. However, eight of them are on both lists. I was interested in what changed for the seven colleges no longer on the list. The main difference is that now six of them currently meet 90% or more of freshman need according to the Common Data Set. In the case of the seventh institution, over 90% of freshman receive some amount of institutional aid.

On the current list, on average, seven of the schools met less than 80% of the financial need of freshman. That means that these are expensive colleges for students with financial need. And let me take a minute to remind you what it means when we’re dealing with averages. New York University (NYU) on average only met 77% of freshman need. However, only 11% of the freshman with need actually had their need fully met. Furthermore, it’s much easier for a school to meet the full need of a student who already has a relatively high EFC.

With the exception of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, these schools are not going out of their way to direct aid to the neediest of students. At Emerson College, the average net price for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less was $30,287. Nine of the colleges had average net prices of $20,000 or higher for this group.

These aren’t good places to look for significant merit aid either. At four of the schools, 10% or less of freshman without need receive merit awards. Now some of the schools do offer a higher percentage of merit awards to freshman without need. Santa Clara, TCU, and Hobart and William Smith have 25% or more of freshman without need receiving merit awards. Yet, the awards aren’t going to go as far since tuition is over $60,000 a year at Santa Clara and Hobart and William Smith.

Six of these colleges have a total cost of over $60,000. All but one are over $50,000. The average for private colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates is $44,307. These are expensive colleges.

Despite the costs, these are popular schools. Part of it has to do with location. Three are in the always desirable California. Another five are in or near in-demand east coast metropolitan areas. Location costs.

Over two-thirds of the schools are also in the size “sweet-spot,” between 5,000 and 10,000 full-time undergraduates. It’s not just that for whatever reason, students prefer colleges this size, most colleges are either smaller or larger than them. Another scarcity factor that can drive up costs.

Now there will always be some students who receive generous financial aid awards from these schools, both need and merit based. It’s just that based on the numbers, the odds are against you at these colleges. So before any family allows one of these expensive colleges to reach “dream school” status, they need to make sure they’ve estimated their EFC and used the school’s net price calculator.

Expensive Colleges Frugal with Financial Aid


Name State Full-time Under-grads 4 yr Grad Rate % Freshman w/out need receiving merit aid Avg merit award for Freshman w/out need Avg Net Price Family Income $0-$30,000 Total Price In-State Students (14-15)
American University DC 7,386 76 16 $12,218 $28,524 $59,120
Carnegie Mellon University PA 5,699 72 4 $11,804 $20,431 $63,822
Chapman University CA 6,004 58 24 $15,999 $25,423 $61,847
Elon University NC 5,638 76 19 $6,303 $23,385 $45,414
Emerson College MA 3,707 77 10 $16,191 $30,287 $55,846
Hobart William Smith Colleges NY 2,362 74 34 $13,783 $11,994 $62,034
New York University NY 23,715 72 3 $9,083 $25,311 $66,022
Santa Clara University CA 5,389 78 25 $12,975 $22,964 $61,638
Texas Christian University TX 8,338 59 29 $15,404 $18,578 $53,730
University of San Diego CA 5,541 67 24 $14,656 $22,214 $59,729
Villanova University PA 6,554 85 4 $13,589 $21,862 $60,694

How I Came Up With the List

I used data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS) to identify private colleges (excluding art and music schools) where 85% or less of freshman are receiving institutional aid and the average award was $30,000 or less. I included only schools that have an average net price of $30,000 or more and accepted less than 60% of applicants. This produced a list of 33 schools.

At this point, I started looking up information from the schools’ common data sets. Specifically, I considered the following information:

  • On average, the percentage of need that was met of students who were awarded any need-based aid. (H2i)
  • Percentage of students in line a who had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid (H2An/H2a)
  • Average dollar amount of institutional non-need-based scholarship and grant aid awarded to students in line n (H2Ao)

Schools where 90% or more of freshman had 100% of financial need met were dropped. I also eliminated colleges where 30% or more of freshman without financial need received merit awards with an average of 30% or more of the total cost of attendance. This left me with the 11 schools on the list.

TCU is again the borderline school on the list. 29% of freshman without need received merit awards that averages 25% of the total cost of attendance. Depending on the student, TCU could be a good bet for financial aid. But I had to draw the line somewhere.

11 Colleges Frugal with Financial Aid

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