50-50 Highlights: 40 Colleges for High-Income Families–and 40 Colleges to Avoid

money and graduation hat representing colleges for high income familiesFamilies 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. This includes families in the highest income category since most private colleges provide financial aid for high income families in the form of tuition discounting more commonly known as “merit aid.” However, some 50-50 schools are more likely to offer merit aid than others. This means that some colleges will be much more affordable for high income families than others–assuming the student qualifies for merit aid.

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The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) breaks down average net price by family income. 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 high income families who don’t qualify for need-based aid, often take out federal student loans and will show up in Title IV numbers.

Average Net Price Does Not Include Loans

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.

You Might Not Be Average

When you use the average net price to compare colleges for high-income families, 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.

Some Colleges Have a Lot of Students Who Don’t Receive Federal Aid

Another figure to pay attention to is the actual number in the highest income 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 high income 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 tables  below show the 40 private 50-50 schools with the lowest average net price in the above $110,000 category and the 40 with the highest. I’m not including public institutions since they tend to give only limited amounts of merit aid.

What do Colleges with Generous Merit Aid Look Like?

California has 7 colleges that made the top 40 most expensive colleges for the highest income category. New York came in second with 5. Ohio led the list of those with the lowest average net price for the highest income category with 7. Pennsylvania and Illinois followed with 5 each.

  Most Expensive Least Expensive
California 7 Ohio 7
New York 5 Pennsylvania 5
Connecticut 3 Illinois 5
Massachusetts 3 New York 4
Pennsylvania 3 Wisconsin 4
Washington 3

Unsurprisingly, the 6 Music and Arts schools made the most expensive list. Only one made the least expensive list.  The biggest difference between the two list are size. The most expensive list includes 24 schools with 3,000 or more full-time undergraduates with 13 in the Goldilocks range between 5,000 and 10,000. Only two schools with more than 3,000 students show up on the least expensive list. This is just further demonstration that because there are a lot more smaller schools, they are the ones most likely to be offering merit aid.

All of this information is available in the DIY College Search Spreadsheet.

Private 50-50 Colleges for High-Income Families based on Average Net Price
Incomes Greater than $110,000)

Spreadsheet of colleges for high income families


50-50 Highlights:  40 Colleges for High-Income Families--and 40 Colleges to Avoid

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