The Very Short List of Colleges that Meet 100% of Need

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Financial Aid

MIchelle Kretzschmar

college student holding money representing colleges that meet 100% of need


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As families start to encounter sticker prices during their college search, they are often revived from their state of shock by soothing voices whispering, “it’s ok, it doesn’t include financial aid.” Students and their parents learn the conventional wisdom that hardly anyone pays full price at private colleges. While true, unfortunately this is when too many families push their financial worries aside and decide to hope for the best in terms of financial aid. The problem is that while most colleges will provide some financial aid, very few will actually meet 100% of need.

Only 5% of Colleges Meet 100% of Need

Out of over 1,500 colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, there are currently 71 that claim to meet 100% of need according to the Common Data Set. For the most part, these are the most competitive schools in the country.  Thirty-three admitted 20% or fewer of all applicants. A total of 60 had acceptance rates of 35% or lower. Only three were 50% or higher.
These are not easy schools to get into.

The College Decides What You Need

Furthermore, these schools get to define “need.” All but six of the colleges that meet 100% of need require students to submit the PROFILE financial aid form. Depending on the school, the PROFILE may consider home equity or non-custodial parents assets which are not part of the FAFSA.
This is why we can only state the colleges “claim” to meet 100% of need because they are actually the only ones that have the data. Their awards are based on need as they calculate it, not on the definition they are required to report to the federal government. There isn’t any reason to doubt the claim but it is vital to understand that it is based on their definition of need.
Otherwise, how can you explain the average net price for students in the lowest income categories at some of the schools? For students with family incomes of $30,000 or less, the average net price ranged from -$134 at Washington and Lee University to a high of $17,784 at Pitzer College.*

Meeting Need Can Include Loans

You have got to wonder how Pitzer calculated the need of the 21 students classified by the FAFSA as having incomes of $30,000 or less such that they were still expected to pay over half their income. Oh, and it’s very likely that some of the aid was in the form of loans since the Common Data Set definition of meeting need allows colleges to include subsidized loans.
The point is that schools get to calculate student need, not the family. Therefore, since the vast majority of schools don’t meet 100% of need, families need to use individual college net price calculators to get some idea of what percentage of need they do meet.
The list below shows colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates that claim to meet 100% of need. It also shows the average net price for students with family incomes of $30,000 or less so you can see the variation involved in calculating need.
The PDF version includes an additional 85 colleges that claim to meet at least 90% of need. This doesn’t mean that all students had 90% of need met. Rather, it means that if all the freshman combined had $100,000 in need, the school awarded $90,000 in need-based aid. A certain number of the students may have had 100% of need met while other may only have had 50% of need met. This is why families should use Net Price Calculators!

Colleges that Meet 100% of Need




*A negative is possible since the calculations are based on the total cost of attendance. Students can be awarded more than the total cost of attendance if they have high travel costs, medical costs, or other factors that would increase their cost beyond the standard average.





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