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Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need Depending on How You Define Need

Chained money representing colleges that meet 100% of needProbably the biggest shock families experience as they consider their college options is finding out how much they’re expected to pay for college. But I think a close second would be how few colleges are actually able to meet the family’s admittedly flawed calculated need. According to CollegeData.com, only 80 colleges and universities claim to meet 100% of a student’s financial need.

If a family is able to show financial need, good luck in finding a school that will actually cover it.

And ultimately, they aren’t very likely to get into one of these select few because, well, most of them are one of the select few. Half of the colleges have acceptance rates of 20% or less. Only three are over 50%. Not surprising, only eight of the schools weren’t ranked in the top 50 for US News Best College Rankings for National Universities or Liberal Arts Colleges.

You just can’t help but think, “wow, prestigious and generous too, no wonder they’re such great schools!”

Actually, I have to admit, I can help myself.

What meeting 100% of need looks like

Why? Because of the 75 schools with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, 38 had an average net price after gift aid of over $8,000 for families with incomes of $30,000 or less. Stanford and Duke don’t report any average for this category. Only 17 had an average of less than $5,000 for this category.

I use $8,000 since virtually all students will qualify for the $5,500 Direct Federal Student loan. When you add it the mandatory student contribution many of the schools require, I can see where an $8,000 average net price is reasonable. However, we are talking about the lowest income category. I’m sure these kids have plenty of expenses that won’t fall under the Total Cost of Attendance which is why I mentioned the number under $5,000 as well.

There are 221 other colleges and universities that have an average net price of $8,000 or less for the lowest income category but only 38 among the 75 schools claiming to meet 100% of need. Does that sound like meeting full need to you?

Colleges get to define demonstrated need

Chances are that most of the schools claiming to meet 100% of need are using their own special definition of demonstrated need since 69 require students to submit the PROFILE as part of their financial aid application. That’s the financial aid application that wants to know your home equity which the FAFSA doesn’t and maybe the year and make of the car you’re driving. Of those using the PROFILE, 65 also require the Non-custodial supplement. It’s their money, they get to decide how to distribute it.

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Furthermore, the PROFILE is the form that low-income students don’t find out if they qualify for the fee waiver until after they submit their application. Maybe that’s why there are so few freshman receiving Pell Grants at these schools. In fact, at least half of the schools wouldn’t meet the Education Trust’s proposed bottom-line standards for the minimum percentage of freshman with Pell Grants.

It’s really about priorities

Now I know that some would argue that colleges simply can’t admit more poor students if they’re going to meet 100% of financial need, no matter how they may decide to define it. Well then, how about we just compare these elite schools among themselves? And let’s avoid the entire income category issues. Let’s take a look at the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants compared to the average endowment per student (see the list below.)

Wake Forest University and Bates College are tied for the second lowest percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants at 8% each. Bates College has an average endowment per student of $176,597 and Wake Forest’s is $157,364.  Southern University at New Orleans has the highest percentage of freshman with Pell Grants at 90% and an average endowment per student of only $1,461.

Southern University at New Orleans too much of an unknown school for you to use for comparisons? Then how about looking at the seven colleges were 18% of freshman are receiving Pell Grants? Three of the colleges have average endowments of less than $200,000 per student. Two of them, Harvard and Stanford, have endowments of over $1,000,000 per student. Maybe they should visit the other schools and learn something about doing more with less.

College % Pell Grant Average Endowment per Student
Barnard College 18 $129,250
University of Southern California 18 $138,068
Franklin and Marshall College 18 $152,501
Wesleyan University 18 $307,423
Columbia University 18 $365,083
Smith College 18 $611,178
Harvard University 18 $1,422,130
Stanford University 18 $1,496,715

They aren’t meeting need if you have to pay it back

One last thing to know about colleges claiming to meet 100% need. They aren’t reporting this to the federal government. It’s information that is collected as part of the Common Data Set (CDS). Publishers like US News use the CDS information to create their rankings and college search websites.

The reason I’m telling you this is because the CDS does not use the same definitions as required by the federal government. The government defines average net price as the amount families pay after gift aid. It doesn’t include any loans or work study funds.

However, the CDS definition allows colleges to count subsidized loans as meeting need. Even though it’s only the interest that the government is subsidizing, the schools get to claim the entire amount in their calculations. So you really need to check with the individual schools to find out if it’s using loans as part of the financial aid award to meet 100% of need.

Now you know why this is a list of colleges as those that “claim” to meet 100% of need and why I’m not necessarily impressed with their generosity. You can find information on all of these colleges and more in the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet.

Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need
(Self-Reported through the Common Data Set)

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Name Type State Full-time Undergraduates % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (18-19)
California Institute of Technology Private CA 938 12
Claremont McKenna College Private CA 1,343 19
Harvey Mudd College Private CA 895 14
Occidental College Private CA 1,965 20
Pitzer College Private CA 1,064 10
Pomona College Private CA 1,621 20
Scripps College Private CA 1,078 11
Stanford University Private CA 6,996 18
University of Southern California Private CA 19,537 18
Colorado College Private CO 2,098 12
Connecticut College Private CT 1,824 16
Trinity College Private CT 2,129 11
Wesleyan University Private CT 2,927 18
Yale University Private CT 6,092 20
Georgetown University Private DC 7,062 14
Howard University Private DC 6,265 45
Emory University Private GA 7,047 20
Northwestern University Private IL 8,248 21
University of Chicago Private IL 6,822 11
University of Notre Dame Private IN 8,732 10
Grinnell College Private IA 1,698 22
Southern University at New Orleans Public LA 1,383 90
Bates College Private ME 1,820 9
Bowdoin College Private ME 1,835 16
Colby College Private ME 2,003 14
Johns Hopkins University Private MD 5,756 16
Amherst College Private MA 1,839 30
Babson College Private MA 2,386 12
Boston College Private MA 9,703 13
College of the Holy Cross Private MA 2,933 14
Harvard University Private MA 7,145 18
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Private MA 4,485 19
Mount Holyoke College Private MA 2,146 16
Northeastern University Private MA 14,202 11
Smith College Private MA 2,531 18
Tufts University Private MA 5,730 11
Wellesley College Private MA 2,393 23
Williams College Private MA 2,052 20
Carleton College Private MN 2,094 13
Macalester College Private MN 2,077 19
St Olaf College Private MN 3,041 20
Washington University in St Louis Private MO 7,118 14
Dartmouth College Private NH 4,414 15
Princeton University Private NJ 5,314 21
Barnard College Private NY 2,578 18
Colgate University Private NY 2,980 13
Columbia University in the City of New York Private NY 7,728 18
Cornell University Private NY 15,043 16
Skidmore College Private NY 2,609 17
Union College Private NY 2,167 13
Vassar College Private NY 2,415 19
Davidson College Private NC 1,837 15
Duke University Private NC 6,583 12
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Public NC 18,579 22
Wake Forest University Private NC 5,234 9
Case Western Reserve University Private OH 5,222 13
Denison University Private OH 2,270 21
Kenyon College Private OH 1,733 10
Marietta College Private OH 1,061 31
Oberlin College Private OH 2,818 8
Reed College Private OR 1,413 12
Bryn Mawr College Private PA 1,375 15
Franklin and Marshall College Private PA 2,315 18
Haverford College Private PA 1,317 16
Lafayette College Private PA 2,635 10
Swarthmore College Private PA 1,594 22
University of Pennsylvania Private PA 10,447 13
Brown University Private RI 6,802 14
Vanderbilt University Private TN 6,817 15
Rice University Private TX 3,949 17
Texas Southern University Public TX 6,028 80
Middlebury College Private VT 2,554 17
University of Richmond Private VA 3,010 16
University of Virginia Public VA 16,330 13
Washington and Lee University Private VA 1,841 14

Colleges that Meet 100% of Financial Need Depending on How You Define Need

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