Oct 21, 2014 at 01:43 PM

Colleges to avoid when searching for financial aid

Article by Michelle Kretzschmar, Republished from DIY College Rankings blog.

In case you haven’t heard, some colleges are more likely to provide you institutional scholarships and grants than others. Some are more generous with merit aid while others give better need-based aid. And just as some colleges are known for their aid, there are those that are known for the lack of it. In this post, I’m listing 15 colleges that you should avoid if you’re looking for significant help in cutting the cost of college.

At 13 of the schools, less than half of freshman with financial need had 100% of their need met. Emerson, University of San Diego, NYU, and Loyola Marymount meet the full financial need of less than 20% of freshman. Students are very likely to be “gapped” at these schools which would explain the high percentage of parents taking out PLUS loans. At NYU, 34% of parents of students with need and 19% at Boston are taking out PLUS loans.

These colleges aren’t known for their commitment to meeting full financial need. If students qualify for tuition waivers, don’t use them to apply to these schools.

These aren’t good places to look for merit aid either. At 11 of the schools, less than 15% of non-need students are receiving merit aid. Colleges such as Santa Clara University, Whitman College, TCU, and Loyola Marymount University, that have higher percentages are providing smaller average awards. Now some might argue that $10,000 isn’t nothing to turn your nose up at but when tuition is almost $60,000, it doesn’t make as big of a dent as compared to a college that has a total cost of $45,000.

And these are expensive colleges. The average total cost of attendance for all private colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates is just under $43,000. Five of the institutions cost $60,000 or more. All but two on the list cost more than $55,000 and the lowest is TCU at $50,720.

I’m defining “significant” merit aid as something that gets the cost of a private college close enough to your state flagship to make it viable. The average amount of merit aid at some of these schools suggest a lot of the scholarships fall into the “boutique” or “dinner party” category. These are awards just big enough to convince wealthy parents to pay the rest of the cost and they can brag about their kid getting a scholarship.

Yet despite their costs, these schools are in demand. Maybe because six of them are ranked in the top 50 on US News Best Colleges national rankings. Ten are in the top 100 and another three are in the top  three of regional universities. Twelve accept less than half of applicants while three admit less than 30%.

They also have a location advantage. All except TCU are located in the Mid/Northeast or west coast-the preferred location for many college bound students. Which is probably why they can get away with their miserly financial aid awards.

Of course, there’s always some students who will receive generous aid from these schools. It’s just that the odds are against you, more so than at other schools. Should any of these schools do appeal to you, you might check out similar schools by using CollegeResults.org.  At the very least, use the schools’ net price calculator before falling in love with it. Ultimately, if cost is a major factor in your college search, these are not schools to include on your college list.

Colleges with Frugal with Financial Aid

% OF 
% OF 
American University DC 6,987 34.1 14.2 $21,789 $140,961
Babson College MA 2,106 47.8 5.9 $18,789 $72,507
Bard College NY 1,907 59.9 2 $23,375 $45,074
Boston University MA 16,593 46.5 8.1 $26,951 $37,402
Carnegie Mellon University PA 5,723 27 7 $20,372 $29,062
Emerson College MA 3,698 10.2 7.7 $28,476 $35,475
Lehigh University PA 4,862 47.5 4.9 $15,400 $323,284
Loyola Marymount University CA 5,935 19.2 27.1 $27,017 $194,649
New York University NY 21,263 18.5 2.7 $27,274 $99,292
Santa Clara University CA 5,338 36 22.2 $27,218 $75,303
Syracuse University NY 14,422 46.1 10 $18,579 $108,192
Texas Christian University TX 8,326 27.5 25.9 $18,908 $25,438
University of San Diego CA 5,486 11.9 13.4 $20,291 $38,132
Villanova University PA 6,547 20.4 5.1 $16,676 $160,160
Whitman College WA 1,504 52.7 25.4 $18,280 $41,603
Showing 1 to 15 of 15 entries

How I came up with the list

I used data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS) to identify private colleges where 85% or less of freshman are receiving institutional aid and the average was $30,000 or less. I included only schools that have an average net price of $25,000 or more and accepted less than 60% of applicants. This produced a list of 35 schools.

At this point I started looking up information from the schools’ common data sets. Specifically, I considered the following information:

  • On average, the percentage of need that was met of students who were awarded any need-based aid. (H2i)
  • Number of students in line d whose need was fully met (H2h/H2d)
  • Number of students in line a who had no financial need and who were awarded institutional non-need-based scholarship or grant aid (H2An/H2a)
  • Average dollar amount of institutional non-need-based scholarship and grant aid awarded to students in line n (H2Ao)

I have to admit that I have my reservations about this data. It is self-reported and sometimes the numbers seem “off.” For example, there are four schools that reported meeting an average of 96% of need. However, the percentage of students with 100% of financial need met ranged from 47.8% to 94.9%. Three of the schools on this list claim to meet an average of 84% of need while reporting 27%, 34.1%, or 59.9% of freshman having 100% of need met. The math may work but I’m just not sure how.

Schools where 60% or more of freshman had 100% of financial need met were dropped. I also eliminated schools where 10% or more of freshman without financial received merit awards that averaged $14,000 or greater. This left me with the 15 schools on the list.

TCU is the borderline school on the list. With the lowest tuition of the schools and the second highest average non-need average merit award, it could be a decent option for students looking for merit money. If you take the $5,000 students save by attending TCU over American University (the school with the highest average merit award) and add it to TCU’s average merit award, it would be well above the $14,000 cutoff.

Posted in Financial Aid.