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

In 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 21 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 five of the schools had a total cost of attendance less than $65,000 for 2021-22. A total of 12 were actually above $70,000 and three were over $80,000.

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List of Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

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. The average net price for students with family incomes under $30,000 are all above $20,000–not exactly the definition of affordable colleges. Seven 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 fewer freshman receiving Pell Grants. Five of them have less than 10%.

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. The fact that the Common Data Set allows for subsidized loans to be counted as part of need-based aid probably helps these schools appear to meet need. The IPEDS data, which is the source of average net price, does not.

I think it’s worth noting that seven of the institutions do not post their common data set information publicly, denying families one of the few data sources that can shed some transparency on the value of merit and need-based aid offered by schools.

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, 100% of freshman at Loyola Marymount University without need are receiving merit money according to the Common Data Set. Unfortunately, the average award of $11,616 will only bring the total cost down to around $63,000.

You can make the case that a significant number of the schools on the list are great bets for merit scholarships. At 11 of the schools, at least 40% of the freshman without need receive merit awards. (Remember, since this is Common Data Set data, this information is missing for seven of the schools.) But the average merit awards aren’t necessarily generous. By generous, I’m talking about the amount of money saved.

According to the common data set, the average $6,180 merit award from NYU is less than 8% of its total cost of attendance. The savings are 25% or less of the total cost at six of the schools. If you can save 25% or more, you can essentially pay for a year of school assuming the costs don’t increase dramatically.

The three schools, SMU, Butler, and Quinnipiac, listing average freshman merit awards that represent 30% or more of the total cost of attendance, would seem like potential bargains. Yet, over four years, SMU still comes in at over $200,000 and Butler and Quinnipiac are over $150,000.

Based on 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 to begin with. 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.

Popular Items Don’t Tend to Go On Sale

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 since three quarters of the institutions accept 50% or more 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 25th 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, Baylor, Butler, and Tulane, the schools on the list are on the more desirable east and west coasts rather than “fly-over” country.

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. Eleven of the colleges fall into this range with another three in the 4,000 range. Only one school on the list has less than 3,000 full-time undergraduates while just two schools, NYU and Baylor, have over 10,000 full-time undergraduates.

These schools aren’t necessarily hard to get into. Sixteen 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. However, these colleges have reached a level of popularity that they don’t need to do so currently in a significant way. 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 % Admitted % Fresh w/out need Receiving Merit Aid Avg merit award for Freshman w/out need Total price for out-of-state students (21-22) % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (20-21) Avg Net Price by Income $0-$30,000 (20-2)1
Chapman University CA 7,147 60 42 $22,897 $80,096 20 $29,234
Loyola Marymount University CA 6,711 46 100 $11,616 $72,936 10 $28,383
Santa Clara University CA 5,649 54 54 $15,628 $76,497 9 $23,618
Fairfield University CT 4,325 56 91 $19,474 $71,860 8 $31,018
Quinnipiac University CT 6,880 88 91 $23,874 $69,760 15 $30,052
Sacred Heart University CT 5,687 66 $65,948 15 $35,846
Butler University IN 4,403 81 90 $21,667 $62,710 15 $29,653
Tulane University of Louisiana LA 8,078 10 48 $16,390 $81,232 8 $23,669
Bentley University MA 3,903 61 $75,615 15 $23,462
Endicott College MA 3,053 77 $56,373 15 $33,748
Marist College NY 5,049 60 $63,185 14 $23,489
New York University NY 27,464 13 8 $6,180 $79,746 18 $23,476
The New School NY 6,200 66 $78,744 17 $27,143
Elon University NC 6,173 78 49 $6,767 $55,647 9 $24,048
High Point University NC 4,653 80 $59,408 12 $33,814
Bucknell University PA 3,725 35 13 $19,473 $77,740 10 $21,532
Lafayette College PA 2,550 41 29 $20,740 $75,934 10 $24,133
Bryant University RI 3,304 74 $66,943 10 $35,382
Baylor University TX 14,524 57 90 $19,148 $68,126 16 $28,078
Southern Methodist University TX 6,894 53 61 $28,950 $81,074 9 $32,478
Texas Christian University TX 9,674 54 76 $19,405 $70,428 14 $29,390



Michelle Kretzschmar

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Michelle Kretzschmar

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