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Elite Private Colleges with Lowest Rates of Student Debt

Jan 27, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you associate elite private colleges with high tuition rates and large amounts of student debt, you have good reason. Students attending private colleges often carry an immense amount of student debt by graduation. In 2011, private college tuition averaged about 28,500 per year, with some as high as $55,000 per year or more.

But not all elite private colleges let their students graduate with heavy levels of debt. A few are committed to helping students graduate with the lowest amount of debt possible—making tuition coverage possible through generous grants and scholarships. Kiplinger’s recent study* highlights several top colleges that help keep student debt loads low.


Princeton is one of the top universities in the country, on par with Harvard and Yale. And it’s committed to helping students keep their debt loads manageable. The average debt at graduation is only $5,225—and less than one in four students borrows any money at all. Their financial aid policy emphasizes no loans at all—and for many students, the college makes this possible.

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In 2011, private college tuition averaged about 28,500 per year, with some as high as $55,000 per year or more.

Harvard and Yale

Speaking of Harvard and Yale, both colleges are also committed to keeping debt loads relatively low for students. Graduates of Yale borrow an average of $9,254, while Harvard students borrow an average of $10,102. That’s a bit more than Princeton, but still quite a reasonable price tag when you consider the exclusivity of both schools—and the amount they could be charging.

Wellesley College

Wellesley is one of the nation’s top women’s schools. It charges $54,050 per year in tuition—but its students graduate with an average of $12,495 in debt. According to Kiplinger, only 5% of its student aid comes in the form of loans—the rest is given as grants. It accepts students regardless of financial circumstance.

Berea College

Graduates from this Christian-focused college graduate with only $5,836  in debt on average. Tuition here is 32,894 including room and board—but the college automatically covers all tuition costs, amounting to $25,500, in financial aid packages that include grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. Students are asked to pay only for room and board, which amounts to $7,394 per year.

Williams College

Students at Williams graduate with an average debt load of $8,369. The school’s average financial aid package amounts to about $40,000 per year, and consists mainly of grants, work-study, and scholarships. Approximately 43% of students borrow.

Scripps College

Scripps charges $55,700 per year in tuition, but students graduate with an average debt of only $9,435. Only 35% of the student body has to take out a loan at all. The small women’s college also offers privately-funded loans on a financial needs basis that do not accrue interest until the student graduates, much like a federal subsidized loan. Students can also take out federal loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized, if needed.

Claremont McKenna College

The average debt load for a graduate of Claremont McKenna is $10,280—not bad for a school that charges $56,505 in full tuition. The merit scholarships at McKenna can be for as little as $10,000, and as much as full tuition for all four years.

This brings the debt load for all of these colleges well below the national average of $25,250—this includes students attending both public and private schools. It’s important to note that the Kiplinger study does not include the amount of money parents borrowed on behalf of children during the academic school year—only student borrowing was counted. Still, all of these colleges can be a great deal—and help you meet your educational goals without putting yourself in a financial hole. It’s not easy to pick a school—but hopefully this information will make the process easier for you.



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