10 Colleges With the Best Financial Aid for Low-Income Families

Colleges With the Best Financial Aid for Low-income Families - featured image

Author: Rai Antonio | Reviewed By: Melissa Anderson, MS.Ed. | Reading level: Grade 10 | First covered: December 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • Gettysburg College tops our list of colleges with the best financial aid for low-income families, followed by Berea College.
  • Make sure to begin your search for great financial aid packages early in high school, or even middle school. Get all of your paperwork together and apply early!
  • Research colleges that are known for generous financial aid programs. This includes Ivy League schools, which have generous endowment programs.
  • Other tips include using college search tools, checking colleges with no-loan policies, look into institutional aid, check out both state and institutional financial aid programs.

Most colleges or universities are generally less expensive than Ivy League schools. Still, an “affordable” college price tag might seem ambiguous to many. Other than the course fees, students need to factor in the budget for:

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  • room and board
  • books
  • other expenses

For students belonging to the low-income category, it is most important to consider the cost of attending college when determining how much they need to borrow or pay.

Colleges With the Best Financial Aid for Low-income Families - fact

The US Department of Education defines a low-income individual as someone “whose family’s taxable income for the previous year did not exceed 150% of the poverty level amount.” Meanwhile, in its official poverty definition, the US Census Bureau calculates income before taxes, excluding capital gains or noncash benefits like:

  • Medicaid
  • public housing
  • food stamps

Many lower income students consider online college as a way to save money. If you’re interested in online college but don’t have a computer of your own don’t worry. Many online colleges are affordable and offer great laptop deals.

Students seeking a college degree must remember that Institutional aid packages, such as scholarships and grants provided by some colleges, are not equal. Some colleges offer significantly more financial aid programs than other schools. This ultimately benefits low-income students.

Colleges With the Best Financial Aid for Low-income Families

1. Gettysburg College

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


This prestigious college has been committed to offering a wide range of financial assistance opportunities since its founding in 1832. To guarantee that financial constraints never stand in the way of a Gettysburg education, the college is dedicated to collaborating with students and their families. Financial help for students at Gettysburg College will be offered in accordance with the College Cost Transparency Initiative’s principles and standards.

Approximately 60% of Gettysburg’s students received merit scholarships and need-based grants totaling over $90 million, to date. Graduates are highly employable, so they pay less interest on their student loans over time and get rid of them faster. Some of the financial aid options perfect for low-income families are scholarships that are merit or talent-based.

Tuition and Fees: $61,760

2. Berea College

Berea, Kentucky


Berea College is a good place to start achieving dreams, and low income shouldn’t stop you from doing so. The institute is famous for providing financial aid to people of color to help them achieve higher education diplomas. They provide financial help to promote social and economic equality. The organization provides financial assistance above and beyond what families and students can afford to cover the essential costs of education. As part of the Berea College program of study, financial aid is offered to students who need it to cover some of the additional costs associated with off-campus study courses. One such example is education abroad.

Tuition and Fees: $45,026

3. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, Maine


The financial situation of your family does not affect or prevent admission to Bowdoin College. The school takes every precaution to make sure that nothing gets in the way of your ability to succeed as a college student. Throughout your time in college, Bowdoin will support you financially. This includes helping with:

  • books
  • food
  • housing
  • travel
  • study abroad opportunities
  • internships
  • career exploration
  • other expenses

The first step in Bowdoin’s fair resource allocation process is for all families to furnish a thorough and accurate financial situation report. You can depend on their staff for assistance.

Tuition and Fees: $61,528

4. Grinnell College

Grinnell, Iowa


Grinnell College makes every effort to ensure that the expense of a Grinnell education doesn’t stand in your way and that you can graduate debt-free. Grinnell is committed to social responsibility. This is why they’re focused on promoting equal financial aid assistance to all kinds of learners. Grinnell is one of fewer than 10 US institutions of higher education that doesn’t require students to take tests and is need-blind. Also, among over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, only a few are able to meet 100% of your demonstrated needs without loans. A Grinnell education can help you fulfill a debt-free future.

Tuition and Fees: $61,480

5. Rice University

Houston, Texas


No matter what your family income is, you shouldn’t close your doors to attending this private research university. Since its founding, Rice has been committed to keeping tuition affordable.

For students with family incomes below $75,000A, grant covers:

  • tuition
  • fees
  • room
  • board

Full-tuition scholarships are offered to students whose family income falls between $75,000 and $140,000. Meanwhile, scholarships covering at least half of the tuition are given to those whose family income falls between $140,000 and $200,000. As a low-income student, you can join Rice and continue to rise from any challenges.

Tuition and Fees: $54,960

6. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania


At Swarthmore College, financial aid is an important mission. It is well known that students accepted to the program come from a variety of financial backgrounds. The school picks up the tab when family resources are insufficient to cover expenses. Swarthmore College fulfills 100% of the determined need for all eligible accepted students. This enables all admitted students to attend Swarthmore, regardless of their financial situation. Financial assistance awards are in the form of non-repayable grants with the stipulation that students take a part-time job on campus.

Tuition and Fees: $59,328

7. Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts


Williams College offers one of the best financial assistance packages in the nation. Low-income families can attend Williams College without having to worry about tuition or student debt. The school offers diverse financial aid options such as:

  • work-study
  • scholarships
  • grants

However, they don’t offer student loans, as they discourage students from earning debt after college. Financial aid questions can be answered anytime.

Tuition and Fees: $61,770

8. Smith College

Northampton, Massachusetts


Students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds are encouraged to apply to and receive support from Smith College. All accepted students who apply for help by the deadlines will have their entire documented need, as defined by college policy, met by the institution. The school also proudly partners with QuestBridge, an educational platform that connects low-income students with leading higher education institutions.

Tuition and Fees: $58,768

9. Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee


One of the biggest single investments a family will make is paying for college, and Vanderbilt University firmly thinks that their education should be worth the money. The good news is that low-income students are welcomed at Vanderbilt University. In fact, the school offers Opportunity Vanderbilt. This is a promise to provide education to all kinds of learners, no matter what their status is.

Tuition and Fees: $60,348

10. Pomona University

Claremont, California


At Pomona University, the financial records of each household are carefully examined to determine the student’s need for funding. The school makes every effort to consider the particular circumstances of each household. The Offer of Financial funding consists of grant funding and a small student employment allocation for qualified students. Although loans are an option, Pomona does not use them to cover a student’s whole cost of attendance. Financial aid is available to 58% of their students. Meanwhile, 52% of students receive need-based scholarships.

Tuition and Fees: $59,238

Tips For Low-Income Students

Prospective low-income scholars must set up a successful plan for applying to institutions and finishing their degrees. Consider the following tips:

Research the best financial aid early.

Speak with an academic counselor as soon as possible in middle or high school when considering attending college. Gather all requirements, such as:

  • application forms
  • GPAs
  • FAFSA forms
  • standardized test scores

Beat all application deadlines.

Low-income financial aid options might require you to prove your family income. As you begin exploring colleges during your senior year of high school, get your family on board with your plans.

Draft an estimate—and be realistic.

Four-year colleges are seldom the only choice for low-income students. Nor are they necessarily the best ones. Sometimes, transfer credit programs in for-profit colleges aren’t as generous as they would be in non-profit higher education institutions. Factor in these details and all other hidden fees.

Gather support and grow your network.

Consult your academic advisor about joining support groups on campus. Explore your school’s communities and social network pages to meet other students who share your economic circumstance and are treading a college path just like you are.

Keep planning for success.

Low-income students can benefit from summer bridge programs. These programs provide a great resource to help you stay on course and earn your degree.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get awarded with a bigger financial aid package?

A high price tag does not always make a college out of reach for prospective students. Low-income families can secure their future through the help of generous financial aid. Students and applicants can take steps to increase their chances of receiving financial aid.

First, consider the benefits and drawbacks of early college application. You may have an advantage in terms of admission and financial aid if you apply early. Still, applying early decision may entail committing to enroll in a particular institution before you have all the facts. Remember that applying for student assistance at many of these universities requires filling out extra paperwork, such as the CSS Profile.

Numerous universities have their own criteria and procedures for evaluating your financial need. It follows that you may be eligible for greater financial help at one college than another. That’s why it’s critical to examine what each college has to offer using financial aid award letters. It’s advisable to gather a list and check out their financial aid offerings.

Can low-income students get enough funding for college?

Merit scholarships are not the same as financial aid. Financial assistance is granted solely on the basis of demonstrated need. On the other hand, scholarships are usually awarded on the basis of a student’s accomplishments. Certain scholarships are restricted to students who meet specific criteria like:

  • nationality
  • residency
  • skills
  • backgrounds

Often, you’ll hear the term “full tuition” when searching for affordable college options. Full tuition is precisely what it sounds like: tuition covered in full through a scholarship. Included are room and board as well as additional out-of-pocket expenses such as school, book, and lab fees. Full rides are almost all-inclusive. In addition to all other attendance expenses, they pay for:

  • lodging
  • food
  • transportation
  • books

What constitutes a good financial aid package?

A student should be able to attend college without taking on excessive debt if they receive a suitable financial assistance package. The particulars of what makes a “good” financial assistance package vary depending on the circumstances of the applicant and the cost of tuition. The relevant institution or university also plays a part.


  • US Census Bureau
  • US Department of Education