A college education -- even at a top private college or university -- doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. Here are ten private schools from Kiplinger's 100 Best Values in Private Colleges and Universities where the net price tag per student -- the annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board, and books) to students after financial aid -- is $20,000 a year or less.
Seven of the ten offer a net price that's well below the average annual price (about $17,000) of a public in-state education.
[More from Kiplinger: 10 Best Values in Public Colleges 2012]
These schools share a commitment to making college affordable, but they also represent private education in all its variety. The list includes two Ivy League schools, four with a religious orientation, two with fewer than 600 undergraduates and one that trumps all the others for the remarkable deal it offers every student: free tuition for all four years. Take a look.
1. Berea College
Location: Berea, Ky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,661
Total cost: $7,646 (for room and board, fees and textbooks)
Average need-based aid: free tuition plus $5,005
Average net cost: $2,641
Kiplinger's rank: #98 among liberal-arts colleges
This school stands out not only for the generosity of its financial-aid program but also for its commitment to providing a college education to students with need. Berea admits only students who qualify for need-based aid; every student receives a full tuition scholarship worth almost $100,000 over four years. Students are also eligible for other grants or scholarships, bringing the total annual net price of this four-year residential college below the average annual cost of a two-year public college.
2. Brigham Young University
Location: Provo, Utah
Undergraduate enrollment: 30,684
Total cost: $17,552 (non-Mormon); $12,842 (Mormon)
Avg. need-based aid: $5,333
Avg. net cost: $12,219 (non-Mormon); $7,509 (Mormon)
Kiplinger's rank: #34 among private universities
Sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young gives a price break to Mormons but makes no distinction between Mormons and non-Mormons when it comes to its financial aid awards. And its sticker price -- the second-lowest, after Berea College, on both our private university and liberal arts college lists -- is a bargain no matter what the student's religion. Over 98% of those attending BYU are members of the LDS church; the remainder represent 25 faiths.
[More from Kiplinger: 10 Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges]
3. Principia College
Location: Elsah, Ill.
Undergraduate enrollment: 542
Total cost: $36,060
Average need-based aid: $23,055
Average net cost: $13,005
Kiplinger's rank: #55 among liberal-arts colleges
Part of a campus that also includes pre-kindergarten, elementary school and high school, Principia College bases its philosophy on Christian Science tenets but is not affiliated with the Christian Science Church. It awards need-based aid to about half of its students and merit aid -- an average of $14,885 -- to 26% of students who do not qualify for need-based aid. Principia's 2,600-acre campus overlooks the Mississippi River; many of its buildings were designed by Bernard Maybeck, a renowned architect of the Arts and Crafts movement.
4. Amherst College
Location: Amherst, Mass.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,791
Total cost: $55,098
Average need-based aid: $41,991
Average net cost: $13,107
Kiplinger's rank: #4 among liberal-arts colleges
Founded in 1821 for "indigent young men of piety," Amherst eventually expanded its enrollment to include both men and women, of diverse backgrounds. But it continues to fulfill its mission by awarding generous financial aid to students with need. Amherst accepts students regardless of their ability to pay and meets 100% of need for students who qualify. Its no-loan financial aid policy allows those who borrow to graduate with less than $13,000 in average debt, less than half the national average.