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Colleges that offer the best financial and merit aid

The college application strategy of each student is going to be unique. Some students want a big state school. Others want a school known for science and research. Others might want to stay close to home. Still others might be itching to get far away.

When considering prospective colleges, students are probably thinking about game days, dorms, and dining hall food, but we know parents think about the bottom line. So, we’ve put together a list of schools that are known for being most generous in terms of merit and financial aid.

Colleges that offer the best merit aid 

Merit aid mainly refers to scholarships doled out on the basis of academic success but can also be awarded based on a student’s leadership roles, extracurricular activities, and school/community involvement.  You can expect larger merit aid packages if your grades and test scores are better than the typical student who enrolls. It’s more difficult to determine how your leadership and extracurriculars might give you a boost. As with any college applicant, you should apply to a wide range of schools— safeties, targets, and reach— knowing that some schools are more generous with aid than others!

The following schools are popular selective colleges that offer the most merit aid:

*Please note that by “most” we are referring to the percentage of the student body who receives merit aid. As such, these schools offer merit aid to the largest percentage of incoming students.

  • Cooper Union
  • University of Vermont
  • Miami University Ohio
  • Fairfield University
  • Oberlin College
  • Denison University
  • Furman University
  • Rhodes College
  • Lawrence University
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • Creighton University
  • Clark University
  • Sewanee University of the South
  • University of Denver
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Tulane University
  • Beloit College
  • Marquette University
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Case Western Reserve University

While some colleges offer competitive merit aid, others are focused on making attendance a reality for prospective students by offering generous need-based aid. Some colleges vow to meet 100% of demonstrated need— and we’ve included them in the list below. 

Demonstrated need is calculated by taking the sticker price of tuition and subtracting FAFSA’s determination of expected family contribution (EFC). EFC is based on the income and assets of each family. The school then provides students with an aid package that makes up the difference between the cost of attendance and EFC. This financial aid package is likely a mixture of scholarships and grants, and the precise makeup of this package might change year to year.


The following schools meet 100% of demonstrated need:

  • Yale University
  • Williams college
  • Amherst College
  • Harvard University
  • Vassar College
  • Duke University
  • University of Chicago
  • Colgate University
  • Princeton University
  • Haverford College
  • Barnard College
  • Dartmouth College
  • Stanford University
  • Brown University
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Smith College
  • Pomona College
  • University of Notre Dame
  • Trinity College
  • Wellesley College
  • Wake Forest University
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