Colleges That Are Truly Affordable
One of the effects of the recent financial crisis has been a serious look at investments and debt. What is a worthwhile investment, and how much debt is too much? Anyone following higher education news stories will have been hammered by articles detailing the extreme cost of an American college education and the horror stories of student debt burying recent graduates. NPR recently ran a story on exactly this, US News offers some practical advice on students loans, and CNBC has even created a special report entitled, “The College Debt Crisis” which includes an original documentary film.
I recently completed collating financial data for my other website – Beyond College Rankings – of the majority of competitive colleges and universities across the country. In this post I want to highlight two sets of institutions: 1) those that meet 100% of need for all admitted students and 2) those that minimize loans in their financial aid packages.
The forty-nine schools in the first category are in many ways what I consider the country’s truly elite schools. In part, yes, they simply have enough money to be able to support anyone who can gain admission, but at the end of the day, these schools are the places where truly, if you can get in, you can afford it. It doesn’t matter what your economic background is. If you can get in, you can afford it.
Bryn Mawr College
California Institute of Technology
Claremont McKenna College
Franklin and Marshall College
Franklin Olin School of Engineering
Harvey Mudd College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mount Holyoke College
St. Olaf College
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania
Washington and Lee University
Honorable Mention (these schools offered 100% of demonstrated need to 90% or higher of their admitted students): University of Rochester, University of Notre Dame, Occidental College, Loyola University (MD), Vanderbilt University, Skidmore College, Union College, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Virginia, Middlebury College, University of Richmond, College of the Holy Cross, University of Southern California, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, Colorado College
The schools in the second category are the exceptionally responsible representatives of the first. I think that $20,000 of debt is a reasonable and worthwhile amount for one’s undergraduate years. The schools that average less than $15k comprise this list, in order of average debt.
- Swarthmore College
- Princeton University
- Berea College
- Yale University
- Harvard University
- Franklin Olin School of Engineering
- Amherst College
- Williams College
- Rice University
- Haverford College
- Wellesley College
Swarthmore and Princeton are notable in that each includes no loans in aid packages. Also, schools like Cooper Union and the U.S. Academies (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine) have tuition covered completely for all students. However, they nonetheless don’t statistically meet 100% of demonstrated need for all students. They do bear mention though as very affordable, excellent institutions of higher learning.
In short, there are a group of schools with an exceptional commitment to educating the best fit students, regardless of their ability to pay (and these schools, through diverse means, have the resources to do so). What does this mean for prospective applicants? First, keep in mind that these schools are all highly competitive – as I mentioned, it’d be easy to argue that this list includes the best schools in the country. But for a strong student from a middle or lower class economic situation, these schools will usually be cheaper than the local flagship public school. For all such students and families who worry about the expense of college, I’d tell them to start their private school search with this list. While all these schools are highly competitive, the list does include a range – schools like Swarthmore and Princeton are reaches for any applicant, but schools like Berea and Hamilton are pretty safe for a top student.