Is a Best Value School Right for You?

When it comes to college, high quality at low cost could be a great deal.

These schools offer big average discounts to financially needy students.

These schools offer big average discounts to financially needy students.

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Students hunting for a good deal need not stick to the Best Values lists, as colleges and universities offer a variety of cost-cutting opportunities. Some colleges are tuition-free, for instance, while other schools have previously claimed to meet students' full financial need. (By nature of their bargains, both have some overlap with the Best Values lists.)

There are also colleges that guarantee to keep tuition rates steady for the four years it takes to earn a degree, which adds predictability—if not a huge savings—to the process of paying for college. What's more, there are regional tuition break programs for students who stay relatively close to home, and three-year degree programs that effectively shave off one fourth of the total cost of college. 

But even a great bargain isn't a good choice if it's from a college that isn't right for you. 

"It makes no sense to go to an engineering school if you want to major in biology," notes Arnold Woods, director of financial aid at Iowa's Grinnell College. "There has to be some rationale for selecting an institution, so a student should select an institution because of its excellence of what it does and what it offers. Certainly, finances are part of that process. 

"If you're looking at several schools with like qualities that you're looking for and one offers a more handsome award, that makes the selection process a bit easier."

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