When comparing college costs, sticker prices are often useless. The net price, the annual cost in tuition, fees, room, board and books after need and merit-based aid is factored in, represents the real cost.
These 10 schools from Kiplinger’s 2014 ranking of the best private college values may have high sticker prices, but each has a net price of less than $17,000, and their students borrow less than the national average of $27,000. Six schools are liberal arts colleges, and four are private universities, including two Ivies.
1. Berea College
Location: Berea, Ky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,658
Total annual cost: $7,920
Avg. need-based aid: $3,469
Avg. net cost: $4,451
Kiplinger’s rank: 63 among liberal arts colleges
Every Berea student has demonstrated financial need (more than half come from families where neither parent has a college degree) and receives a full four-year tuition scholarship. Other costs may be covered through other scholarships or loans. Each student spends less than $5,000 on average for their education and graduates with an average $7,224 in debt.
2. Brigham Young University
Location: Provo, Utah
Undergraduate enrollment: 31,060
Total annual cost: $17,942 (non-Mormon); $13,092 (Mormon)
Avg. need-based aid: $4,603
Avg. net cost: $13,339 (non-Mormon); $8,489 (Mormon)
Kiplinger’s rank: 32 among private universities
The Church of Latter-day Saints sponsors BYU, but both Mormons and non-Mormons pay less than $18,000 to attend and the students who borrow (fewer than one third) borrow less than $15,000.
3. Principia College
Location: Elsah, Ill.
Undergraduate enrollment: 489
Total annual cost: $37,480
Avg. need-based aid: $22,681
Avg. net cost: $14,799
Kiplinger’s rank: 56 among liberal arts colleges
The school overlooks the Mississippi River and is 45 miles from St. Louis and though not affiliated with the Christian Science Church, the church’s principles form the culture of the school. Students graduate with less than $22,000 in student loans.
4. Yale University
Location: New Haven, Conn.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,405
Total annual cost: $58,550
Avg. need-based aid: $43,115
Avg. net cost: $15,435
Kiplinger’s rank: 1 among private universities
Only 7 percent of applicants are admitted, but Yale meets 100 percent of need and gives need-based aid to families earning as much as $200,000 per year. The 17 percent of undergraduates who take out loans graduate with a little more than $10,000 in debt.
5. Amherst College
Location: Amherst, Mass.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,817
Total annual cost: $59,714
Avg. need-based aid: $43,424
Avg. net cost: $16,290
Kiplinger’s rank: 5 among liberal arts colleges
Less than one third of students borrow to attend Amherst, a highly ranked liberal arts college, and they graduate with less than $15,000 average in debt.
6. Christendom College
Location: Front Royal, Va.
Undergraduate enrollment: 388
Total annual cost: $31,650
Avg. need-based aid: $15,192
Avg. net cost: $16,458
Kiplinger’s rank: 49 among liberal arts colleges
Christendom is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college with core curriculum in theology, philosophy, literature, math, political science, and the natural sciences. The college awards need-based aid to 77 percent of its students and merit-based aid to 96 percent of its students.
7. Harvard University
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,658
Total annual cost: $57,497
Avg. need-based aid: $40,950
Avg. net cost: $16,547
Kiplinger’s rank: 4 among private universities
Harvard provides an average need-based aid per student of more than $40,000 and full aid to 63 percent of students who receive need-based assistance.
8. Wofford College
Location: Spartanburg, S.C.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,568
Total annual cost: $45,795
Avg. need-based aid: $28,915
Avg. net cost: $16,880
Kiplinger’s rank: 32 among liberal arts colleges
Wofford is affiliated with United Methodist Church and provides merit aid averaging $14,769 and need-based aid that lowers the sticker price by nearly two-thirds on average.
9. Centenary College of Lousiana
Location: Shreveport, La.
Undergraduate enrollment: 698
Total annual cost: $42,175
Avg. need-based aid: $25,230
Avg. net cost: $16,945
Kiplinger’s rank: 74 among private universities
Centenary is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River and is, like Wofford, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. More than half of its students quality for need-based aid, and half without need qualify for merit aid.
10. Thomas Aquinas College
Location: Santa Paula, Calif.
Undergraduate enrollment: 370
Total annual cost: $32,450
Avg. need-based aid: $15,498
Avg. net cost: $16,952
Kiplinger’s rank: 41 among liberal arts colleges
Thomas Aquinas is a Roman Catholic college with a curriculum based on “the great books” of Western civilization. Faculty guide Socratic discussion. The college doesn’t offer merit aid, but meets 100 percent of need-based aid to the 81 percent of students who have qualified.