The private and public colleges that top the list for financial aid

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At the country’s top colleges, the most recent application season was the most competitive on record, but getting accepted at several schools may have been the easy part for students.

Now they have less than one week to decide on which school they’ll attend ahead of National Decision Day on May 1, the deadline for high school seniors to finalize a plan for next year. 

For many, the biggest problem remains how they will pay for their degree.

Including tuition, room and board, books and other expenses, the average estimated total cost in 2021-22 for students at four-year private colleges is about $55,800 annually; for in-state students at four-year public colleges it is more than $27,300, according to the College Board.

A majority of college-bound students and their parents say affordability and dealing with the debt burden that often goes hand in hand with a college diploma is their top concern, according to The Princeton Review’s 2022 College Hopes & Worries survey.

A whopping 98% of families said financial aid would be necessary to cover the cost and 80% said it was “extremely” or “very” necessary, The Princeton Review found.

“Just the thought of navigating the financial aid is scary to the average student and parent,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief. “But the good news is that there is a great deal of aid out there, and many schools are incredibly generous.”

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The Princeton Review ranked colleges by how much financial aid is awarded and how satisfied students are with their packages. The 2022 report is based on data from its surveys of administrators and students at 650 colleges in the 2020-21 school year.

When it comes to giving out scholarships and grants, which never have to be repaid, private schools typically have more money to spend, Franek said. “They are able to use their financial wherewithal to allow students to attend college without it being a significant financial burden.”

At the five schools atop Princeton Review’s 2022 ranking of the best private colleges for financial aid, the average scholarship award is over $57,000.

“These schools are doing the near impossible, which is bringing the cost down below what a student can expect to pay for one year of public college,” Franek said.

Top 5 private colleges for financial aid

Blair Hall at Princeton University
Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

1. Princeton University
Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Sticker price: $74,190
Average need-based scholarship: $61,928
Total out-of-pocket cost: $12,262

2. Yale University
Location: New Haven, Connecticut
Sticker price: $77,750
Average need-based scholarship: $61,067
Total out-of-pocket cost: $16,683

3. Pomona College
Location: Pomona, California
Sticker price: $71,980
Average need-based scholarship: $55,485
Total out-of-pocket cost: $16,495

4. Vanderbilt University
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Sticker price: $68,980
Average need-based scholarship: $54,417
Total out-of-pocket cost: $14,563

5. Vassar College
Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Sticker price: $75,920
Average need-based scholarship: $53,699
Total out-of-pocket cost: $22,221

Top 5 public colleges for financial aid

University of Virginia
Source: Dan Addison | UVA University Communications

1. University of Virginia
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Sticker price (in-state): $31,228
Average need-based scholarship: $25,509
Total out-of-pocket cost: $5,719

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Sticker price (in-state): $21,252
Average need-based scholarship: $16,295
Total out-of-pocket cost: $4,957

3. Florida State University
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Sticker price (in-state): $17,989
Average need-based scholarship:  $11,170
Total out-of-pocket cost: $6,819

4. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Sticker price (in-state): $29,785
Average need-based scholarship: $23,137
Total out-of-pocket cost: $6,648

5. City University of New York — Hunter College
Location: Manhattan, New York City
Sticker price (in-state): $23,447
Average need-based scholarship: $8,892
Total out-of-pocket cost: $14,555

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that The Princeton Review’s 2022 listing of top colleges for financial aid relies on data from the 2020-21 school year. A previous version mischaracterized the time period. A previous headline misstated the timing of those financial aid awards and mischaracterized the 10 most generous colleges. This article has also been updated to reflect that the College Board’s 2021-22 dollar amounts represent the average estimated total costs for students to attend; a previous version misidentified this data.

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