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Financial Aid Reports

The Best Colleges For Financial Aid

Updated Oct 24, 2023   |   10-min read

The cost of college in the United States climbs higher with each passing year, which makes financial aid as valuable as ever.

Scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans are all forms of financial aid and are what any student should turn to first when figuring out how to finance their college education.

Because scholarships and grants don’t need to be repaid, they can help make even the most expensive of colleges relatively affordable.

This is why financial aid is so important, and why it’s imperative for any prospective college student to research which higher education institutions provide the best financial aid packages.

To help with this research, LendEDU analyzed the most recent financial aid data for nearly 500 four-year colleges to tell you which schools are the best for providing financial aid to their students.

Schools were ranked according to their average financial aid offerings for need-based financial aid (60% weight), non-need-based financial aid (34% weight), and financial aid for international students (6% weight).

Best Colleges For Financial Aid — Overall Rankings

The table below is the comprehensive ranking that lists, in order, the best colleges for financial aid in 2020. The colleges and universities included have self-reported their financial aid data for the 2018-2019 academic year. Schools that didn’t fully report their data for the aforementioned academic year were not included in the analysis.

The overall ranking is based on a total score that incorporated the following three sub-scores: need-based financial aid score (60%), non-need-based financial aid score (34%), and financial aid for international students score (6%).

To see how a school ranked within only its state, either sort the table on the “State” column or type your desired state into the search bar. 

Need-Based Financial Aid Scoring

The table below displays the data used to calculate the need-based financial aid score, which carried a 60% weight towards the total score.

Please note the schools are sorted based on the overall rank of that school (including all three sub-scores), not the specific rankings for need-based financial aid.

To sort the table according to each school’s need-based financial aid score specifically, click the “Need-Based Score” column to sort it in descending order.

The need-based financial aid score considered the likelihood of students with financial need receiving need-based scholarships and grants as well as the percentage of need met for students with financial need who received need-based aid.

Non-Need-Based Financial Aid Scoring

The table below displays the data used to calculate the non-need-based financial aid score, which carried a 34% weight towards the total score.

Please note the schools are sorted based on the overall rank of that school (including all three sub-scores), not the specific rankings for non-need-based financial aid.

To sort the table according to each school’s non-need-based financial aid score specifically, click the “Non-Need-Based Score” column to sort it in descending order.

The non-need-based financial aid score considered the average amount of non-need-based scholarships and grants given to each student normalized by the cost of attendance (COA). We considered the cost of attendance because more expensive schools may still be more costly than other schools even if attending students receive larger amounts of scholarships and grants on average.

Financial Aid For International Students Scoring

The table below displays the data used to calculate the financial aid for international students score, which carried a 6% weight towards the total score.

Please note the schools are sorted based on the overall rank of that school (including all three sub-scores), not the specific rankings for financial aid provided to international students.

To sort the table according to each school’s financial aid for international students score specifically, click the “International Score” column to sort it in descending order.

The financial aid for international students score factored the average amount of financial aid given to each international student normalized by the cost of attendance (COA). We considered the cost of attendance because more expensive schools may still be more costly than other schools even if attending students receive larger amounts of scholarships and grants on average.

How to Apply For Financial Aid

Applying for financial aid is a step any college student should take as it can significantly lower your out-of-pocket cost for college, in addition to reducing your reliance on student loans.

Check out a few tips from LendEDU on the financial aid application process.

Know the FAFSA Deadlines & Gather Necessary Information

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, more commonly known as the FAFSA, is your ticket to receiving financial aid so it’s imperative to know the important dates.

To be considered for federal student aid for the 2020-21 academic year, you can submit your FAFSA application as early as October 1, 2019, but no later than June 30, 2021.

Additionally, be sure to have all necessary information handy when preparing to submit the FAFSA. Things you’ll need include your Social Security Card, driver’s license, tax information, and bank statements.

Submit Your FAFSA & Wait to Review

Once you have gathered the necessary information to submit your FAFSA, it should take between seven and 10 days to process your application.

During this time, it’s important to submit any additional paperwork to specific colleges you are applying to, while also reviewing your Student Aid Report to ensure all of your submitted information is correct. If you find incorrect information, you can make FAFSA corrections here.

Afterward, some colleges may ask to verify your information so be sure to do that. Then as you begin getting accepted to colleges, you will see the financial aid packages that each college has offered you.

Be sure to accept all grants and aid before turning to student loans, and also know you have the ability to appeal your financial aid offer from a specific college if you think you should have been awarded more aid.

Your Options After the FAFSA

Considering the high cost of college, the unfortunate reality many college students face after completing the FAFSA and receiving their financial aid is that they still have costs that need to be covered.

You really have two options if this is the case…

Private Student Loans

You can turn to the private market and apply for a private student loan that may cover your remaining higher education costs.

A few private student loan lenders that you could apply to include College Ave, Citizens Bank, and Earnest.

Parent Student Loans

An alternative to private student loans would be a parent student loan, which can either come from the federal government as a Federal Parent PLUS loan or the private market from a lender like College Ave.

With this option, your parents will borrow the money and be responsible for repayment.

Methodology

All data that can be found in this study derives from the Peterson’s Undergraduate Financial Aid Database and the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

All data reflects the 2018-19 academic year, which is the most recent data available from Peterson’s. Both Peterson’s data and IPEDS’ data derive from surveys administered to and completed by participating colleges and universities.

We only included colleges and universities that submitted their 2018-2019 financial aid data during 2020, so that each participating college and university had a full-year to compile and finalize their data. Only four-year colleges and universities were included in the analysis.

We excluded higher education institutions if they were missing any aspect of the data that was required to complete our analysis. After removing schools with incomplete information, we were left with 312 colleges and universities.

The final score was made up of the three individual scores with the following weights: need-based financial aid score (60%), non-need-based financial aid score (34%), and financial aid for international students score (6%).

Need-Based Financial Aid Scoring

The need-based financial aid score was comprised of two individual scores which were weighted equally: (1) The likelihood of students with financial need receiving need-based aid; (2) The percent of total need met for students with financial need who were awarded need-based aid.

To calculate the likelihood of students with financial need receiving need-based scholarships and grants, we divided the number of full-time undergraduates who received any need-based financial aid by the number of full-time undergraduates determined to have financial need. The percent of total need met for students with financial need who were awarded need-based aid comes directly from the Peterson’s dataset. For the latter, need-based aid includes both institutional and non-institutional aid given to students, excluding any aid that was awarded in excess of need as well as resources that were awarded to replace expected family contribution (such as PLUS Loans, unsubsidized loans, and private student loans).

Non-Need-Based Financial Aid Scoring

To calculate the non-need-based financial aid scores, we started by dividing the total amount of non-need-based scholarships and grants (including both institutional and non-institutional aid) awarded to degree-seeking undergraduates by the undergraduate enrollment, then dividing the result by the overall cost of attendance.

The first two numbers came directly from Peterson’s dataset. The cost of attendance numbers came from the IPEDS’ dataset. To calculate the cost of attendance, we multiplied the percentage of students paying in-state tuition rates by the total price for in-state students living off-campus (not with family) and added that to the percentage of students paying out-of-state tuition rates multiplied by the total price for out-of-state students living off-campus (not with family). The dataset did not include data on how many in-state and out-of-state students were living on-campus vs. off-campus, so we used the total price for students living off-campus (for both in-state and out-of-state students) as this data was available for more schools as compared to students living on campus.

Once we found the average amount of non-need-based aid given to each student normalized by the average cost of attendance, we scored each on a scale of 0 to 100 by using the standard normal cumulative distribution function.

Financial Aid for International Students Scoring

To calculate the financial aid for international students scores, we started by dividing the average amount of financial aid awarded to undergraduate degree-seeking international students by the overall cost of attendance.

The first number came directly from the Peterson’s dataset. The cost of attendance numbers came from the IPEDS’ dataset. To calculate the cost of attendance, we multiplied the percentage of students paying in-state tuition rates by the total price for in-state students living off-campus (not with family) and added that to the percentage of students paying out-of-state tuition rates multiplied by the total price for out-of-state students living off-campus (not with family). The dataset did not include data on how many in-state and out-of-state students were living on-campus vs. off-campus, so we used the total price for students living off-campus (for both in-state and out-of-state students) as this data was available for more schools as compared to students living on campus.

Once we found the average amount of aid given to each international student normalized by the average cost of attendance, we scored each on a scale of 0 to 100 by using the standard normal cumulative distribution function.

See more of LendEDU’s Research