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20 Schools to Avoid if You’re Making a List of Affordable Colleges

college student thinking about Schools to Avoid if You’re Making a List of affordable collegesIn case you haven’t heard, some colleges are more likely to provide you institutional scholarships and grants than others. Some are more generous with merit aid while others give better need-based aid. And just as some colleges are known for their aid, there are those that are known for the lack of it and shouldn’t be found anywhere near a list of affordable colleges. In this post, I’m listing 20 colleges that you should avoid if you’re looking for significant help in cutting the cost of college.

It doesn’t help that these schools start off expensive. Only three of the schools had a total cost of attendance less than $65,000 for 2020-21. A total of 15 were actually above $70,000.

Because paying two thirds of your income is reasonable

Of course, everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to go by sticker price since colleges discount their tuition through financial aid awards. However, there isn’t a lot of evidence to show that most of these schools are going to meet students’ financial need. With the exception of two schools, the average net price for students with family incomes under $30,000 are all above $20,000–not exactly the definition of affordable colleges. Nine were actually over $30,000.

Yet, three schools on the list reported meeting 90% or more of financial need for freshman and two more saying they meet 85% or more of need on the Common Data Set. It is possible since these schools tend to have a low percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants. All of the schools have 20% or less of freshman receiving Pell Grants. Five of them have less than 10%.

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It’s easy to meet the financial need of students who can already pay 80% or 90% of the cost. This would explain why the average need-based awards are generally lower than other schools that claim to meet 90% or more of need.

It’s also probably why Tulane and Brandeis actually have average net prices for the lowest income category of less than $15,000. Only 8% of Tulane students and 14% of Brandeis’ received Pell Grants. They are included on the list because of their low average merit awards based on the common data set information.

Affordable colleges are based on how much you pay-not save

Now some of these schools may seem like good opportunities for merit scholarships which would seem to potentially add them to a list of affordable colleges. After all, 84% of freshman at Loyola Marymount University without need are receiving merit money according to the Common Data Set. Unfortunately, the average award of $13,534 will only bring the total cost down to around $57,000.

You can make the case that a significant number of the schools on the list are great bets for merit scholarships. At 12 of the schools, at least 50% of the freshman without need receive merit awards. But the average merit awards aren’t necessarily generous. By generous, I’m talking about the amount of money saved.

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According to the common data set, the average $6,180 merit award from NYU is less than 10% of its total cost of attendance. The savings are 25% or less of the total cost at 13 of the school. If you can save 25% or more, you can essentially pay for a year of school assuming the costs don’t increase dramatically.

If you go by how much you actually spend on college over four years, even with the savings, families will be paying over $200,000 for the majority of colleges on this list. That’s hardly a list of affordable colleges. Now this may be a great deal for those who are prepared to pay $50,000. However, given that colleges with a full $50,000 sticker price also offer merit scholarships, even with the more “generous” awards mean the colleges on the list will remain expensive for most families.

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Ultimately, these schools don’t have to be particularly generous with financial aid since they are in demand. It’s not just about acceptance rates although half of the institutions accept 50% or fewer of applicants. Colleges of certain sizes and in certain locations are in demand. And apparently families are willing to pay a premium for them even if the rankings aren’t something they’ll mention when socializing with their peers.

Consider that these areas aren’t building new colleges to accommodate the demand. How highly ranked does Chapman have to be since it’s in California? As for NYU with a 28th National Ranking from US News and located in New York City means that families are willing to overlook the fact that it only meets an average of 67% of need of freshman and the average merit scholarship for freshman without need is less than $7,000. With the exception of TCU, SMU, and Tulane, the schools on the list are on the more desirable east and west coasts rather than “fly-over” country.

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Size is an important factor as well. Half of them fall into the “Goldilocks” size of schools, not too big, not too small. Students seem to prefer schools between 5,000 and 10,000 students. Even the smallest on the list have at least 3,000 full-time undergraduates and only one school, NYU has over 11,000 full-time undergraduates.

These schools aren’t necessarily hard to get into. Eleven of them have acceptance rates of 50% or higher. Normally, the higher the acceptance rates, the more likely schools are to offer generous merit aid. Chances are that they did so in the not so distant past to draw students to their campuses. However, these colleges have reached a level of popularity that they don’t need to continue to do so.

Basically, these schools have plenty of qualified students applying and don’t need to offer financial incentives and don’t care if they aren’t on the affordable college list.

Of course, there’s always some students who will receive generous aid from these schools. It’s just that the odds are against you, more so than at other schools. Should any of these schools do appeal to you, you might check out similar schools by using CollegeResults.org. At the very least, use the schools’ net price calculator before falling in love with it. Ultimately, if cost is a major factor in your college search, these are not schools to include on your college list.

Not Affordable Colleges List
(Frugal with Financial Aid)

Name

State

Full-time Under-grads

% Freshman w/out need Receiving Merit
Aid

Avg merit award for Freshman w/out need

Total price for out-of-state students
2020-21

 %
Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (19-20)

 Avg
Net Price by Income $0-$30,000 2019-20

Chapman University

CA

6,843

39

$20,519

$78,272

18

$34,946

Loyola Marymount University

CA

6,383

84

$13,534

$71,258

11

$32,730

Pepperdine University

CA

3,132

80

$14,880

$77,912

17

$36,264

Santa Clara University

CA

5,478

48

$14,076

$72,984

10

$26,428

Sacred Heart University

CT

5,671

$64,692

15

$36,454

American University

DC

7,453

38

$13,231

$69,366

15

$21,108

University of Miami

FL

10,737

93

$23,244

$73,712

14

$44,463

Tulane University of Louisiana

LA

7,851

49

$19,061

$78,680

8

$12,456

Bentley University

MA

4,008

$73,985

15

$23,297

Brandeis University

MA

3,465

34

$12,912

$76,195

14

$13,389

Emerson College

MA

3,626

$74,526

14

$34,171

Fordham University

NY

8,887

66

$20,471

$79,216

18

$26,202

New York University

NY

25,854

8

$6,180

$77,632

19

$23,582

The New School

NY

5,658

$73,376

18

$38,085

Elon University

NC

6,073

50

$6,938

$54,562

10

$27,491

High Point University

NC

4,575

$57,268

11

$31,257

Bucknell University

PA

3,686

12

$20,367

$75,922

8

$22,722

Bryant University

RI

3,255

$65,706

12

$32,716

Southern Methodist University

TX

6,616

68

$30,992

$79,050

9

$27,427

Texas Christian University

TX

9,448

65

$19,265

$71,828

11

$25,170

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20 Schools to Avoid if You\'re Making a List of Affordable Colleges