By Gabija Žukauskaitė
Published 2023 01 31
When it comes to choosing a university, the financial aspect can be decisive as the student needs to consider the tuition fees and living expenses and how much of these can be covered by the university or external funding. This post outlines a few top universities that are known for their most generous need-based funding policies. Yet, because of different reporting practices (e.g. information on either median or average scholarship, depending on the university), we acknowledge the difficulty in providing objective rankings. Hence, we further provide a list without any particular order.
Yale is committed to an admissions policy that does not consider a student’s ability to pay, and a financial aid policy that meets the full need of all students with no loans required. These two principles: need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid, ensure that a Yale education is affordable for everyone, regardless of family background, citizenship, or immigration status.
Jeremiah Quinlan, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
Among the very best universities in the world, Yale University is the one that statistically offers the most generous financial aid. The following statistics from Yale Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid demonstrate the financial aid that first-year students in the Class of 2023 received on average.
As we can see, admitted students whose annual family income was below $65,000 were granted a median scholarship of $76,925, which mostly covers both the tuition fees ($62,250) and living expenses (estimated $18,450). It should also be noted that, after their first year, students are allowed to move off-campus, and can find rooms and apartments available for rent at half the price of what the “room” charge is for living on-campus, in college dormitories. Furthermore, they can also get off the meal plans offered by the school and start making use of the off-campus kitchen, which also significantly reduces the “board” part of the costs. By being frugal here, Yale students can reduce their expenses to around $70,000 and pocket the remainder of the aid – that’s right, if students are able to find cheaper accommodation and eat for less than Yale estimates, they get to keep the difference. The same is true for the financial aid policies of most other institutions on this list.
Similarly, the admissions process at MIT is need-blind, while financial aid is full-need meaning that the university is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need for all of its students, both American and international. Again, many of our readers are international students and often ask whether international students qualify for financial aid at top US universities. While some universities have very limited funds available for international students, the universities on this list do not discriminate based on country of citizenship – everybody gets the same aid.
Please note that some universities on the list report median aid, while some report the figures in terms of averages. Without additional statistical data and access to the full set of data, it is hard to determine whether one school or another offers more generous packages. In any case, the differences are not as large as to be significant in differentiating between universities based on financial aid generosity, and we further complement our assessment by incorporating anecdotal (albeit small-scale) evidence from former Atlas students, mentors, and wider network who have been admitted to the schools, and received financial aid.
Columbia University further notes that students of families whose annual income is below $66,000 are expected to contribute $0 for their child’s education, including living expenses. If a family makes “between $66,000 and $150,000 and [owns] typical assets”, then a student can attend Columbia “tuition-free”.
According to Columbia’s Financial Aid statistics, the median income of families receiving the Columbia Grant is $97,020. However, even students from families whose annual income reaches $250,000 can be entitled to financial aid.
At Princeton, financial aid is also need-based and the average grant for a student admitted to the Class of 2025 was $62,200. The table below shows the median costs of attendance at Princeton.
Princeton applies a similar margin of $65,000 for the family’s annual income to receive a full grant that covers full tuition, room and board. In addition, 100% of families that earn up to $180,000 qualify for financial aid. As of Class 2025, the average grant was $62,200.
Although statistically, the median scholarship at Harvard is slightly lower than at the previously mentioned schools, Harvard applies the highest minimum family income of $75,000 per year to qualify for full financial aid. Moreover, need-based scholarships are received by 55% of Harvard undergraduates each year.
While this may not be reflected in statistics, our students have historically received the most generous packages from Northwestern University and New York University Abu Dhabi (NYU Abu Dhabi). The two are well-regarded institutions that compete with the very top US schools such as Harvard or Yale and sometimes use their financial resources to attract the brightest minds by offering them even more generous financial packages.
Financial aid calculators are useful tools that estimate how much a student’s family will need to contribute for one year of study. Here is a link to Harvard’s financial aid calculator. You can find similar ones for other universities. They will, in most cases, give you a pretty good indication of what your family is likely to pay. However, further negotiations are certainly possible.
Here at Atlas, we help students to compose the list of top universities that they should apply for based on a series of objective criteria and the student’s own personal preferences. In addition, we can help you fill out financial aid and scholarship applications as well as negotiate with universities for a better financial aid package.
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