Families are told not to avoid private colleges and universities because of their high sticker prices. The fact is that very few people pay the actual sticker price. Most private schools have some form of tuition discounting more commonly known as “merit aid.” Since some 50-50 schools are more likely to offer merit aid than others, it’s a good idea to get a feel for the differences.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) breaks down average net cost by family income. In order to use this information appropriately, you need to understand what it actually represents. Only students who receive some sort of Title IV aid are included in the groups. Students who receive no federal aid are not included. However, Title IV does include unsubsidized Direct loans which the vast majority of US citizens qualify for. This means that even students who don’t qualify for need-based aid, often take out federal student loans and will show up in Title IV numbers.
The average net price reflects the total cost of attendance minus grant aid. Therefore, even though receiving federal loans will put you in the category, they are not used in calculating the average net price.
The grant aid can be either need-based or merit-based. As far as the federal government is concerned, the college is giving money to the student, it doesn’t matter why. However, in the upper income categories, you would expect that the grants are more weighted to merit aid rather than need-based aid.
There are five income categories with the highest being $110,001 and more. This is the category to use to identify which schools might be more generous with merit aid. Without going into the implications for society at large, this category represents students most likely not to qualify for need-based aid while having higher test scores for merit aid.
When you use this category to compare schools, you need to remember that you are using an average. This is important in two ways. The first is that there are probably students who are paying much less or much more than the average. Theoretically, few students could be at the average and most at the opposite extremes. Not likely but still a possibility. If you keep this in mind, you won’t be surprised when your award is dramatically different from the average.
The second reasons is that small differences in averages between colleges can actually represent a pretty significant differences in either the amount of aid awarded or to the number of students who receive the aid or both. A five thousand dollar difference in the average net price is likely to represent a bigger difference between two schools than the same difference in actual sticker price.
Another figure to pay attention to is the actual number in the category receiving gift aid. Remember, these are only students who are receiving some sort of federal aid. The school also reports how many of these students receive some sort of gift aid. These numbers don’t include any students who don’t receive federal aid but did get some form of merit scholarship.
In any case, you can use the numbers to gauge how applicable the averages actually are. For example, if you see an average net price of only $23,000 but it’s based on just three students, you may not want to use it as a guide for what sort of money students can expect.
The point of reviewing all of these issues on what the numbers might mean is to make sure that you use them as a guide rather than a promise. The following tables show the 30 private 50-50 schools with the lowest average net price in the above $110,000 category and the 30 with the highest. I’m not including public institutions since they tend to give only limited amounts of merit aid. All of this information is available in the DIY College Search Spreadsheet. Subscribers can download a table with the following information for all 50-50 colleges. Private 50-50 Schools with Highest
Private 50-50 Schools with Highest and Lowest
Average Net Price for Incomes Greater than $110,000