Updated on October 9th, 2021
When college students need to cover the cost associated with getting their degree, many assume that student loans are always part of the financial aid package.
While many schools do include loans as a means of paying for their programs, there are also colleges that meet 100% financial need entirely loan-free.
This means your child can get their degree without student loans being part of the financial aid package. If your student is interested in exploring these options, here’s what you need to know.
- 1 Defining Financial Need
- 2 What Motivates Colleges That Meet 100% Financial Need?
Defining Financial Need
Financial need is the difference between the expected family contribution (EFC) calculation on your child’s FAFSA and the cost of tuition. The FAFSA takes information about your student’s and family’s financial situation and calculates what it deems is an affordable amount for your child to cover on their own.
Typically, the FAFSA reviews income, savings, specific investments, and similar financial factors to decide how much your student or family is expected to contribute to their education.
The exact amount of the EFC varies (at times dramatically) depending on your family’s unique circumstances. If your student has completed their FAFSA, the information on the assigned EFC is part of the result. If your child hasn’t finished the FAFSA, you can get an estimate using this handy calculator.
Your student’s financial need is determined by subtracting their EFC from the total cost of attending the school.
As an example, if your child’s EFC is $10,000, and the cost of tuition for a year is $30,000, that makes your student’s financial need $20,000.
How Colleges That Meet 100% Financial Need Work
At many schools, your child’s financial aid package will cover their remaining need through a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study options, and/or student loans, depending on their unique circumstances. However, with institutions that meet 100% financial need loan-free, student loans aren’t part of the package.
Instead, colleges that meet 100% financial aid without student loans only offer grants, scholarships, and work-study opportunities to cover the costs beyond your student’s EFC.
Using the example from above, this means your child’s financial aid package will be completely loan-free while still handling the $20,000 in financial need.
Now, this doesn’t mean your child can avoid loans entirely, depending on how they need to address the EFC amount. Colleges that meet 100% financial need have no control over the EFC (the remaining $10,000 from the example); that is entirely in your child’s or family’s hands.
Additionally, work-study is a common requirement in these programs. This means your student will be working part-time in exchange for the school covering their tuition. But, work-study can be a great opportunity, as most colleges strive to ensure that the work your student takes on it relevant to their future career, making it a powerful experience and resume builder.
What Motivates Colleges That Meet 100% Financial Need?
It isn’t uncommon to wonder why a school would want to ensure that students can cover their financial need without student loans. However, the colleges do have a big incentive to offer these programs.
First, it gives them the ability to attract the best and brightest students, regardless of their family’s financial situation. It makes high-cost schools more competitive in the eyes of lower-income students because their education will be seen as more affordable.
Second, schools that meet 100% financial need may have an easier time when it comes to crafting a diverse student body. Since they are prepared to help students cover the remaining costs beyond the EFC without loans, they can have “need-blind” admissions, eliminating financial considerations from the admissions process.
Colleges that meet 100% financial need can provide equal access to a high-quality education, bridging the gap between students that come from low- and high-income households.
How Can Colleges That Meet 100% Financial Need Afford It?
In the vast majority of cases, colleges that meet 100% financial need are predominately supported by endowments. Endowments are a combination of donations and investment assets that help the school generate income.
At times, wealthy families help off-set the cost of offering these programs. If a household can reasonably afford to pay for all of their student’s tuition, they may have to do so, ensuring that lower-income students can have access to additional aid.
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What are the Colleges That Meet 100% Financial Need?
The schools that offer these programs can vary from one year to the next. Additionally, the income requirements can shift, allowing the colleges to focus on providing loan-free options to students who may otherwise be unable to afford to attend their school
However, certain colleges have a long-standing history of offering such opportunities to a large portion of their student:
- Amherst College
- Bowdoin College
- Columbia University
- Harvard University
- Princeton University
- Stanford University
- Swarthmore College
- University of Pennsylvania
- Vanderbilt University
- Yale University
Others schools use income limits when determining who qualifies for loan-free options, including:
In some cases, no-loan options are only available to first-year and transfer students. Others may focus on specific majors or programs, or limit it to only the first four years a student attends college.
Ultimately, your child will need to review details about the school’s financial aid program to see what may be available, as each school can handle the situation differently and the options may vary from one year to the next.
Also, in some cases, choosing a school that meets 100% financial need with student loans can be a good option, particularly if your child can’t qualify for loans privately.
Some schools are fairly generous when it comes to their overall financial aid packages, but they aren’t able to eliminate student loans entirely. Here are a few worth exploring:
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
- Georgetown University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Harvey Mudd College
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
- University of Notre Dame
- Wake Forest University
Keep in mind, there are other schools that may meet 100% financial need with student loans as part of their packages, so it’s always wise to explore every school’s financial aid policies to see what they may be able to offer.
Other Ways to Meet 100% Financial Need without Student Loans
While the schools above may be an option for your student, there are other ways to cover the costs, and even potentially avoid student loans when covering EFC.
Your student needs to complete their FAFSA every year, ideally as soon as applications are being accepted for the next school year. This may increase their chances of getting grants and other forms of loan-free student aid, especially since some are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Scholarships are also an important source of funds, particularly if your child has an EFC. It is entirely possible to earn enough in scholarships to pay for an entire education, making financial aid packages essentially irrelevant.
If your child wants to cover their costs with scholarships, they need to apply to as many as possible and focus on turning in applications all year-round. This increase their odds of being selected, helping them off-set their EFC or even completely cover their college expenses.
If you’d like to learn exactly where to find these scholarships, and how your student can secure them, check out our free scholarship training webinar: 6 Steps to Quickly Securing Scholarships for College
Getting a part-time job or paid internship can also be an excellent option, especially if your child isn’t offered any work-study opportunities. While the idea of juggling employment and school can be daunting at first, many students find it perfectly manageable once they get into the swing of things. Plus, they can earn real experience which may help them land a better job after they graduate.
By examining all of their options, your child can avoid student loans, allowing them to leave college with their degree in hand and without any student loan debt.
Lastly, if you haven’t already, make sure to join our new FREE Facebook group, Debt-Free Degree Strategies, where we cover all types of opportunities to eliminate student loans from your family’s equation.