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Financial Aid at Top Colleges



Top Colleges Can be More Affordable for Low-Income
Students than Public or Community Colleges

While leading colleges have a very high, intimidating price tag, they are often much cheaper for low-income students to attend than public universities and community colleges. Selective colleges such as Stanford, Amherst, and Williams have large endowments and can commit to meeting all demonstrated financial need. Public and community colleges, and many lower-endowment private colleges, generally do not have the resources to cover all demonstrated need.



Cost of Attending College:

Below are the sample costs of attending a private college, a public university, and a community college:

Approximate Annual Tuition Rates
Private University $46,000
Public University $9,000
Community College $2,000


Additional Annual Expenses
Total $17,000
Room & Board $10,000
Books & Supplies $1,000
Personal Expenses $1,800
Transportation up to $2,500
Health Insurance $1,700

Note: additional expenses will be essentially the same regardless of what school you attend unless you decide to live at home and eliminate the cost of room and board.

To determine the total Cost of Attendence, add annual tuition and additional expenses (as noted above) for each college.

Total Cost of Attendence
Private University $63,000
Public University $26,000
Community College $19,000


At first, it seems that the private university is far more expensive than the public university or the community college. However, each school is able to provide different amount of financial aid, which means that the amount your family is responsible for will be different at each college.



Financial Aid:

At every kind of school you would get the same federal aid. However, only the selective private college would be able to provide enough additional aid to meet your remaining financial need. When a college is not able to meet your demonstrated financial need, the total cost you have to pay is the Expected Family Contribution plus the unmet need. See below for an example of financial aid from each college:


Click on the image for a larger view.
Click here to review financial aid terminology.

As you can see, despite the overall price tag of a school, the private university for which you only have to pay the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will always be the cheaper option.

There are a number of top schools with financial aid policies that require no parental contribution under a set income level. It is important for low-income students to know that this doesn’t mean that attending one of these schools is free.

The EFC is a combination of how much your parents are expected to pay and how much you are expected to pay. So eliminating the parent contribution does not eliminate the EFC; the student contribution remains. Generally all schools require students themselves to make a contribution from their summer earnings, usually ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. So, even if your family falls below the $45,000 mark, you the student will still be expected to contribute to your education.

Paying the student contribution isn’t hard for students. Low-income students can often earn work-study doing research and other great jobs to cover their contribution. 

To see what a financial aid package might look like for your particular financial situation, use net price calculators


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