(Updated for 2020) I’ve reviewed multiple college search websites and searching by size is always an option. Size is probably one of the first limitations students use when searching for colleges, often based on little to no real experience or evidence. And if you’re interested in getting the best college financial aid possible, this is a big mistake.
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The Majority of Colleges are Small
Actually, it’s really just a mistake if you’re looking only at schools with 5,000 or more students. Why? Because you’ve just eliminated approximately 3/4 of all colleges from consideration. Of the 1,599 public and private (non-profit) colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, 73% have 5,000 or fewer undergraduates.
It’s basically a numbers game. If the majority of colleges have fewer than 5,000 students, that means the majority of colleges that offer financial aid are going to be small as well. Furthermore, if you consider that students are more likely to get merit aid from private schools, the chances are even greater it will be from a smaller school. There are only 86 private colleges with more than 5,000 full-time undergraduates compared to 342 public institutions.
And since the colleges are small, they are going to have fewer alumni interacting with the rest of the world, so fewer people will have ever heard of the college.
Therefore: The Majority of Colleges with the Best College Financial Aid are Small
This isn’t meant to pass judgement on which is better, large or small schools. The four-year graduation rate for private colleges with under 5,000 students ranges from as little as 2% to 92%. Private colleges with 5,000 or more undergraduates have graduation rates from 4% to 91%.
This is about finding the best college financial aid possible, especially merit money. Of the 86 private colleges with 5,000 or more students, only 37 have a graduation rate of 50% or better with an average net price of less than $32,000. Among the 813 smaller private schools, 437 have a 50% or better graduation rate with an average net price of less than $32,000.
In Pennsylvania, there are 91 colleges with fewer than 5,000 students and only 16 larger ones. The small colleges in Ohio outnumber the larger ones by 58 to 13. In New York, there are 82 smaller colleges compared to 40 larger ones. Only in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho do the larger colleges outnumber the smaller ones.
Ultimately, if families are really serious about finding the best financial aid deal, they can’t afford to rule out small colleges. The following table shows the number of colleges by size for each state.
Colleges by Size and State
(with 500 or More Full-Time Undergraduates)
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