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

(Updated for 2023) Probably 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 the Common Data Set and college websites only 75 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.

Download the Complete List of Best Bet Colleges for EFC=0

Let’s start with how do you find colleges that meet 100% of need. The Common Data Set asks colleges “On average, the percentage of need that was met of students who were awarded any need-based aid.” Unfortunately, most college search websites don’t allow users to search on this information.

I created my list based on the Common Data Set information colleges post on their websites. I included all schools that claimed to have met 99% or more of need among freshman. This netted me 67 colleges. Then I used the IPEDS data on institutional aid to identify other colleges likely to be meeting 100% of need but didn’t post their Common Data Set information. After checking their websites, I added eight more schools to the list.

This included Wake Forest which states on its website that “we meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of eligible admitted undergraduate students, with grants, scholarships, work-study, and subsidized loans.” Yet, it reported meeting only 96.9% of freshman need on its posted common data set.

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. Almost two-thirds of the colleges have acceptance rates of 20% or less. Only one is over 50%. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the schools were 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. Two schools, Lafayette and Harvey Mudd, had averages of over $20,000. A total of 27 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 in 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 152 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 72 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, 68 also require the Non-custodial supplement.

Boston College explicitly states that “Boston College does not meet the expected family contribution determined by the FAFSA. We meet 100% of the need that is based on our determination of your institutional expected family contribution.” It’s their money, they get to decide how to distribute it.

Furthermore, the PROFILE is the form that low-income students don’t find out if they qualify for the fee waiver until sometime while completing their application. Maybe that’s why there are so few freshman receiving Pell Grants at these schools. In fact, over 40% 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.)

Among the 75 schools, the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants range from a high of 29% to just 8%. If you graph the two numbers, there really doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the two. In other words, the percentage of freshman with Pell Grants doesn’t increase as the Average Endowment per Student increases.

Consider just the seven colleges where 21% of freshman are receiving Pell Grants. Two of schools have average endowments of less than $200,000 per student while a third is under $400,000. The remaining four schools have endowments of over $1,000,000 per student. Maybe they should visit the other schools and learn something about doing more with less.

Name % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (20-21) Endowment per Student
University of Southern California 21 $135,972
Yale University 21 $1,869,708
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 21 $121,337
Columbia University 21 $367,973
Pomona College 21 $1,275,918
Amherst College 21 $1,288,372
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 21 $1,610,154


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 of 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

Name Type ST Full-time Under-graduate % Admitted % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (20-21) Avg Net Price by Income $0-$30,000 2020-21
Amherst College Pri MA 1,863 9 21 $4,625
Babson College Pri MA 2,656 25 19 $18,034
Barnard College Pri NY 2,744 11 18 $17,166
Bates College Pri ME 1,922 17 8 $4,735
Boston College Pri MA 9,702 19 12 $12,320
Bowdoin College Pri ME 1,881 9 16 $4,531
Brown University Pri RI 6,889 6 14 $4,849
Bryn Mawr College Pri PA 1,332 39 17 $14,782
California Institute of Technology Pri CA 973 4 10 $10,755
Carleton College Pri MN 1,952 18 17 $14,936
Carnegie Mellon University Pri PA 6,441 14 14 $14,879
Case Western Reserve University Pri OH 5,355 30 17 $18,240
Claremont McKenna College Pri CA 1,305 11 23 $249
Colby College Pri ME 2,232 9 14 $3,982
Colgate University Pri NY 3,067 17 13 $10,923
College of the Holy Cross Pri MA 3,047 43 13 $9,920
Colorado College Pri CO 1,969 14 19 $10,023
Columbia University Pri NY 7,792 4 21 -$3,429
Connecticut College Pri CT 1,735 41 17 $19,605
Cornell University Pri NY 15,121 9 18 $1,862
Dartmouth College Pri NH 4,700 6 17 $6,376
Davidson College Pri NC 2,029 18 15 $7,163
Denison University Pri OH 2,279 28 14 $12,160
Dickinson College Pri PA 1,969 48 20 $1,245
Duke University Pri NC 6,940 6 12 $2,945
Emory University Pri GA 7,119 13 19 $9,311
Franklin and Marshall College Pri PA 2,349 38 25 $14,608
Georgetown University Pri DC 6,764 12 14 $596
Hamilton College Pri NY 2,013 14 18 $7,555
Harvard University Pri MA 6,161 4 22 $1,754
Harvey Mudd College Pri CA 827 10 13 $21,439
Haverford College Pri PA 1,342 18 16 $6,923
Johns Hopkins University Pri MD 5,894 8 20 -$2,634
Kenyon College Pri OH 1,755 37 10 $13,244
Lafayette College Pri PA 2,550 41 10 $24,133
Macalester College Pri MN 2,080 31 25 $11,680
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Pri MA 4,326 4 21 -$6,711
Middlebury College Pri VT 3,626 13 19 $5,105
Mount Holyoke College Pri MA 2,082 52 29 $7,687
Northeastern University Pri MA 20,250 18 13 $13,099
Northwestern University Pri IL 8,404 7 20 $8,911
Oberlin College Pri OH 2,741 34 8 $13,705
Occidental College Pri CA 1,870 38 18 $13,983
Pitzer College Pri CA 871 18 14 $985
Pomona College Pri CA 1,556 7 21 $2,285
Princeton University Pri NJ 4,746 4 18 $5,761
Reed College Pri OR 1,406 44 11 $14,733
Rice University Pri TX 4,037 9 17 $5,578
Scripps College Pri CA 908 30 9 $17,911
Skidmore College Pri NY 2,561 31 12 $11,889
Smith College Pri MA 2,357 30 19 $11,678
St Olaf College Pri MN 2,982 47 22 $9,478
Stanford University Pri CA 6,157 4 20 -$1,975
Swarthmore College Pri PA 1,533 8 22 $10,638
Trinity College Pri CT 2,212 38 15 $8,252
Tufts University Pri MA 6,082 11 11 $8,299
Union College Pri NY 2,082 47 14 $10,627
University of Chicago Pri IL 7,351 6 14 $2,993
University of Florida Pub FL 33,060 30 22 -$208
University of Miami Pri FL 11,307 28 14 $19,275
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Pub NC 18,756 20 21 $4,908
University of Notre Dame Pri IN 8,949 15 12 $10,918
University of Pennsylvania Pri PA 10,213 6 19 -$6,500
University of Richmond Pri VA 3,172 29 17 $13,287
University of Southern California Pri CA 19,533 13 21 $12,404
University of Virginia-Main Campus Pub VA 17,173 21 13 $8,987
Vanderbilt University Pri TN 7,061 7 18 $4,752
Vassar College Pri NY 2,456 20 19 $10,697
Wake Forest University Pri NC 5,417 25 10 $7,527
Washington and Lee University Pri VA 1,831 19 10 $769
Washington University in St Louis Pri MO 7,187 13 16 $3,263
Wellesley College Pri MA 2,353 16 22 $5,206
Wesleyan University Pri CT 3,031 19 18 $4,449
Williams College Pri MA 2,043 9 20 $718
Yale University Pri CT 5,898 5 21 $1,717
Michelle Kretzschmar

Published by
Michelle Kretzschmar

Recent Posts

FAQ: Do students get the same amount of financial aid every year?

Students are not likely to receive the same amount of financial aid every year. This…

4 months ago

4 Things You Should Know Before You Contact College Coaches

Nobody likes wasting their time and college coaches are no exception. So when you start…

5 months ago

5 Essential Valparaiso University Facts

Valparaiso University-Private Valparaiso, Indiana (Chicago-Naperville, IL-IN-WI CSA) 2,924 (2,507 undergraduates) Does College Size Matter? Read…

5 months ago

What Happens to People Who Go To Colleges No One Has Ever Heard Of?

I think that there are a lot of families out there that would like to…

5 months ago

5 Essential State University of New York at Oswego Facts

50-50 College profile for SUNY Oswego including graduation rates and financial aid information on how…

5 months ago

5 Ways to Get Smart About College Baseball Recruiting

As you start the college baseball recruiting process, you need to know what you don’t…

5 months ago