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What Does “Best Value” Mean?


Posted by Jay Watson on Friday, November 8, 2013

Earlier this fall, when U.S. News and World Report released their 2014 listing of top national universities, Vanderbilt was ranked number 17 nationally for the second year in a row. While a lot of attention gets paid to this marquee list every year, U.S. News also puts together other rankings as well, like the top engineering schools and the top schools according to high school counselors, both lists on which Vanderbilt appeared again this year. But one list that I think should get more attention is the U.S. News ranking of “Best Value Schools.” This year, Vanderbilt jumped five spots in the ranking all the way to number 11 nationally.

The “Best Value” list measures both quality and affordability.  In their methodology, U.S. News evaluates three components:  the ratio of quality and cost, the number of students receiving need-based financial aid, and the percentage of cost covered by financial aid. As the high ranking indicates, these are areas where Vanderbilt excels, but let’s take a closer look at the details.

  1. Ratio of Quality to Cost – To begin with, U.S. News only considers schools for the “Best Value” list that have already been rated highly on the magazine’s top colleges rankings. As a top-twenty school, Vanderbilt more than meets this standard. For these top schools, FiU.S. News takes each school’s overall quality score and compares it to the “net cost to a student receiving the average need-based scholarship or grant.” For Vanderbilt this means that our number 17 overall ranking is compared to our 2012-2013 average cost after receiving aid of $21,313.
  2. Number of Students Receiving Need-based Financial AidU.S. News also considers the percentage of undergraduates receiving need-based aid, and the higher the number, the more it improves the school’s ranking. For the academic year 2012-2013, the year on which the ranking is based, 44.4% of undergraduates received need-based aid. This year the percentage is over 45%.  Think about the importance of that number for a second. That means almost half of Vanderbilt students are receiving need-based aid. Or, to put it another way, the odds are pretty good that if you pick a random room in The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, at least one of the roommates is receiving need-based aid.
  3. Average Percentage of Costs Covered by Financial Aid – This statistic measures the percentage of the total cost covered by the average need-based aid package. The average need-based package for undergraduate students in 2012-2013 (per the Common Data Set) was $43,794. The cost of attendance was $60, 040, making the ratio 73%.

And while these measures are impressive, they don’t even consider all of the sources from which Vanderbilt students receive aid. When you factor in merit-based scholarships and other sources as well, over 60% of Vanderbilt students receive some type of assistance to attend Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt’s unwavering commitment to our Opportunity Vanderbilt financial aid program provides the foundation for these strong value rankings. Opportunity Vanderbilt includes three important promises:

First:  Since talent and promise recognize no social, cultural, economic, or geographic boundaries, our admissions process is need-blind for U.S. Citizens and eligible non-citizens.

Second: Vanderbilt will meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need for all admitted undergraduate students.

Third:  Financial aid awards do not include loans. Instead of offering need-based loans to undergraduate students, Vanderbilt offers additional grant assistance.

With such a strong commitment to affordability, it’s no wonder that Vanderbilt is being recognized as a top value. To learn more about your eligibility for financial aid at Vanderbilt, try out our Net Price Calculator, which uses your specific financial information to create an estimate of your need-based aid eligibility and out-of-pocket costs.


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