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All Contents © 2016The Kiplinger Washington Editors
Here is the crème de la crème of privately funded universities based on Kiplinger's rankings for best value. Unlike private liberal arts colleges, private universities offer a full range of advanced degrees, such as PhDs, JDs and MAs, in additional to undergraduate bachelor’s degrees.
What makes the following universities special in our book? Highest-quality academics are combined with unusually generous aid packages that bring the price of attending to less than half the sticker price. These top schools confer a treasure of financial help to the small fraction of students who are admitted. Take a look.
All of the schools featured here have a student-faculty ratio of 8:1 or less.
By Sandra Block, Senior Associate Editor
| December 2014
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Location: Princeton, N.J.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,323
4-year grad rate: 88%
Total annual cost: $59,165
Avg. need-based aid: $37,183
Total net cost: $21,982
Average graduating debt: $5,552
Princeton’s generous financial aid packages helped it land the top spot on our list (it’s also number one on our list of combined public and private colleges and universities). The fourth-oldest chartered college in the United States, Princeton is highly selective: Only 7% of applicants get in, and 80% of students who enroll score 700 or above on the math portion of their SATs (76% score 700 or above on the verbal portion). But what makes Princeton really stand out on our list is what graduates don’t have: a lot of debt. Under Princeton’s no-loan financial aid program, students receive 100% of aid in the form of scholarships and grants. The average debt at graduation among those who borrow is $5,552, much lower than any of our other top private and liberal arts colleges (and the lowest of all 300 colleges in our rankings).
Notable alumni: First Lady Michelle Obama, Presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson, and author F. Scott Fitzgerald
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Location: New Haven, Conn.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,430
4-year grad rate: 90%
Total annual cost: $60,850
Avg. need-based aid: $44,268
Total net cost: $16,582
Average graduating debt: $13,009
Yale’s second-place position on our private-school and combined lists is cemented by its top-notch academics. At 7%, Yale’s admission rate is equal to Princeton’s. It offers a six-to-one student-faculty ratio and a 90% four-year graduation rate. Among incoming freshmen 80% score 700 or higher on the verbal SAT; 81% score 700 or above on the math portion. Also like Princeton, Yale has a no-loan financial aid policy. Average debt at graduation among students who borrow is $13,009. Parents, don’t assume you make too much to qualify: You can earn $200,000 or more and your student may still be eligible for some financial aid.
Notable alumni: 19th-century inventor Samuel Morse, Pinterest cofounder Ben Silbermann, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush
John Phelan via Wikimedia Commons
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,722
4-year grad rate: 86%
Total annual cost: $59,607
Avg. need-based aid: $41,975
Total net cost: $17,632
Average graduating debt: $12,560
The oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. offers a generous financial aid program that makes a Harvard education surprisingly affordable. Sixty-one percent of students receive need-based financial aid, tied with MIT for the highest percentage in our top 10. Slackers need not apply: With an admission rate of 6%, Harvard has the most competitive admission standards in our rankings, along with Stanford University.
Notable alumni: President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts, comedian Conan O’Brien
Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Location: Houston, Tex.
Undergraduate enrollment: 3,965
4-year grad rate: 79%
Total annual cost: $54,766
Avg. need-based aid: $34,565
Total net cost: $20,201
Average graduating debt: $17,856
Rice stands out for its top academics, including a low, six-to-one student-faculty ratio and a 98% freshmen-retention rate. It’s also an attractive choice for families who don’t qualify for financial aid but aren’t millionaires. About one-fourth of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive merit aid, with an average grant of $11,833.
Notable alumni: Venture capitalist John Doerr, "Sex and the City" creator Candace Bushnell, White House press secretary Josh Earnest
Carine06 via Wikimedia Commons
Location: Durham, N.C.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,646
4-year grad rate: 87%
Total annual cost: $61,878
Avg. need-based aid: $39,275
Total net cost: $22,603
Average graduating debt: $18,456
This fabled research university offers students exceptional opportunities to obtain career-enhancing practical experience in medicine, engineering and environmental studies. In addition to generous need-based aid, Duke also offers merit aid to 23% of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid, with an average grant of $19,823. Students cite the beautiful campus and close-knit collegiate culture as part of Duke’s appeal.
Notable alumni: Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates, Pimco co-founder Bill Gross, TV interviewer Charlie Rose
Jbaker08 via Wikimedia Commons
Location: Nashville, Tenn.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,835
Total annual cost: $60,294
Avg. need-based aid: $39,373
Total net cost: $20,921
Average graduating debt: $20,303
Nearly half of the students at this Nashville-based university receive need-based aid, with an average award of more than $39,000. Vanderbilt is unusually generous with merit aid, too: 19% of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive merit awards averaging $23,789. While Vanderbilt is only a mile and a half from downtown Nashville, its campus was designated a national arboretum in 1988 for its wide assortment of tree and shrub varieties.
Notable alumni: Authors Robert Penn Warren and James Dickey, singer Dinah Shore, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler
canon.vs.nikon via Wikimedia Commons
Location: Pasadena, Calif.
Undergraduate enrollment: 977
4-year grad rate: 82%
Total annual cost: $57,603
Avg. need-based aid: $35,474
Total net cost: $22,129
Average graduating debt: $15,010
All of the schools on our top 10 list have low student-to-faculty ratios, but none comes close to Caltech, where there’s one faculty member for every three of its 977 students. This is where students go to become rocket scientists. Caltech operates NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is renowned for its top astrophysics and engineering programs.
Notable alumni: Astrophysicist Kip Thorne, astronaut and former U.S. senator Harrison Schmitt
Madcoverboy via Wikimedia Commons
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,528
4-year grad rate: 84%
Total annual cost: $59,240
Avg. need-based aid: $36,272
Total net cost: $22,968
Average graduating debt: $17,891
Only 8% of students who apply get into this competitive school, but once they’re accepted, 98% stay after their freshman year. MIT is known worldwide as the training ground for the scientific elite. Nine of MIT’s current faculty members have won a Nobel Prize.
Notable alumni: Bose Corp. founder and electrical engineer Amar Bose, Architect I.M. Pei
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Location: Stanford, Calif.
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,061
4-year grad rate: 76%
Total annual cost: $59,888
Avg. need-based aid: $40,460
Total net cost: $19,428
Average graduating debt: $16,640
Only 6% of applicants get into this top research university. For those who make the cut, Stanford goes out of its way to make a high-quality education affordable, with an average need-based grant of more than $40,000 and an unusually low average net cost for those who qualify for aid. The Stanford community includes 21 Nobel laureates, making the school’s five-to-one student-faculty ratio even more worthwhile. Its campus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the U.S.
Notable alumni: President Herbert Hoover, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, investor Charles R. Schwab
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Location: Hanover, N.H.
Undergraduate enrollment: 4,276
Total annual cost: $63,293
Avg. need-based aid: $41,376
Total net cost: $21,917
Average graduating debt: $15,660
This Ivy League school moves into our top 10 list because of its low admittance rate (only 10% of applicants get in) and generous financial aid. Half of students receive need-based aid, with an average grant of $41,376. Despite its rural location (Dartmouth’s motto, Vox clamantis in deserto, translates to “a voice crying out in the wilderness”), 98% of Dartmouth freshmen return after their first year. Average debt for graduates who borrow is $15,660, compared with more than $31,200 for the average borrower from a private, four-year college or university.
Notable alumni: Writer and cartoonist Dr. Seuss, actors Mindy Kaling and Connie Britton
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