For students who can get in, Harvard is known for generous financial aid.
Bloomberg—Getty Images
By Kim Clark
September 8, 2016

More than 140 colleges in the U.S. claim to provide enough grants to meet at least 90% of the “demonstrated financial need” of their undergraduates.

But each school decides for itself what a student’s “demonstrated financial need” is. Some of the schools have comparatively stingy definitions, and as a result, their students graduate with high debt loads.

MONEY crunched a variety of numbers, including colleges’ need-based aid budgets, the debt loads of their graduates, and the average net prices they charge low-income students to find the schools that appear to have the most generous need-based financial aid.

One reason many of these schools offer a lot of aid is that they are expensive to begin with. They also tend to be highly competitive to get into, so they aren’t for everyone.

That’s why we also slice the data in other ways. For example, you may want to consult our latest list of The 50 Most Affordable Private Colleges, all of which have lower than average tuition, generous financial aid, or a combination of the two. Our list of The 50 Best Public Colleges features many affordable schools, especially for in-state residents.

And students from families earning less than $48,000 a year will also want to check out MONEY’s free Affordable College Finder, for schools that are likely to admit them and provide enough aid so they can graduate without burdensome student loans.

To make our list, each of these schools had to pass MONEY’s basic quality screens, such as having solid graduation rates. Then, we focused on schools that claim to meet at least 90% of students’ financial needs, and to meet 100% of the need of at least 90% of students. We then eliminated any school that reported charging low-income students (those from families indicating an income of less than $30,000 on the federal forms) an average net price of more than $9,000 a year. We also eliminated schools whose graduates had average debt loads of more than $27,000.

All of these schools’ aid programs appear to be generous, so we simply ordered the list by MONEY’s overall college ranking.

College Overall MONEY rank Average price for low income students after grant aid Average student debt load at graduation
Princeton University 1 $3,630 $6,810
Harvard University 3 $2,473 $6,000
Rice University 4 $6,468 $8,413
Amherst College 7 $3,700 $11,186
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 11 $5,128 $13,645
Yale University 12 $3,918 $12,000
Pomona College 22 $5,807 $8,600
California Institute of Technology 24 $6,696 $18,349
University of Pennsylvania 26 $7,636 $21,500
Vanderbilt University 27 $6,905 $13,750
Washington and Lee University 29 $353 $19,500
Brown University 31 $3,186 $16,000
Dartmouth College 33 $7,529 $11,625
Duke University 39 $8,777 $6,500
Hamilton College 40 $4,573 $16,500
Bowdoin College 43 $5,925 $19,500
Davidson College 46 $8,289 $16,663
Middlebury College 48 $4,904 $19,500
Williams College 49 $3,127 $12,005
Bates College 61 $7,426 $17,058
Wesleyan University 68 $6,009 $18,633
Colby College 75 $1,710 $19,461
Harvey Mudd College 79 $8,770 $25,696
University of Chicago 83 $8,964 $18,625
Union College 98 $8,682 $26,278
Swarthmore College 100 $8,537 $19,000
Grinnell College 156 $8,112 $10,775
Haverford College 250 $8,881 $13,853

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