Low income student at NESCAC/Elite LAC's?

As a low income student (under 50k/year), I am applying to a few NESCAC schools that meet 100% of student’s financial need including:
Connecticut College
Trinity and

because I’ve never had the chance to visit these colleges it is hard for me to grasp the vibe of each college. Do students from low income families have a hard time fitting in these colleges (due to other students spending a lot of money on weekends etc), and will one’s income status make a difference in their social life?

In the above colleges which college would be the least preppy, have a diversity in terms of socio-economic status, and have a chill laid back vibe where there’s not much divide?

Also any info on each college’s vibe would help.

I was just very worried about this so any response would help, thank you! :slight_smile:

You can look up some stats on College Navigator, such as percentage of students with Pell grants (approximates students from the lower half of parental income) and percentage of students getting any grants or scholarships (the other side of that is full pay students, who must come from top ~4% income parents to be able to afford private college list price).

For example:
Trinity has 51% receiving grants or scholarships (so 49% full pay), with 11% receiving Pell grants.

Based on your concerns I would probably substitute Trinity, CC and Colby for Haverford, Swarthmore and Oberlin. Pomona and Carleton are great too.

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I would also add Vassar. They have a higher than average percentage of Pell grant-eligible students, and they are need blind. This Washinton Post article from 2017 may be of interest. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/10/23/pell-grant-shares-at-top-ranked-colleges-a-sortable-chart/


The great thing about small LAC colleges in small towns is that most of what students do is cheap or free, because it is subsidized by the college, and most of it is on-campus. Our LAC collegekid used savings from her summer job to pay for everything that wasn’t covered by room, board and books, and never needed to call home for money- yet she went to on-campus shows and concerts and competitions and all kinds of outdoor activities. There are students at all of those colleges with lots of money- and ones with none. Most are somewhere in-between.

It’s an interesting collection of places you have. I don’t know much about ConnCollege. I know a bunch of students at Colby, Bates and Wes (and I know even more about Vassar, which was mentioned upthread), and I would have no worries about being a low income student at any of them. I haven’t known any Trinity students in many years, so my perception may be out of date, but it would be the one I would look at the most carefully to see if it feels comfortable to you.


My daughter is a low income student at a similar college (Haverford). She’s had a great experience, but the wealth of those around her is often obvious and in her face. She’s always had wealthy friends so she’s used to it, but yeah… penthouse suites (pre Covid) for birthdays and everyone on a team agreeing to the super expensive uniform options vs the cheaper ones, and the fact that the dining center staff are almost exclusively low income students and the fancier campus jobs always seem to go to the wealthy students- even with a stated head start for work study students in applying- kids with better resumes coming in have the truly head start. All that said, she is happy with her choice and doesn’t let it bother her at all. She sticks to what she can afford and asks the school for help when needed, like for that uniform, and they have come through for her.


Wesleyan and Bates best fit this, IMO. Wesleyan is decidedly the most creative and arty of those you mentioned. Vassar is also worth looking into, though it has more women than men.


Gender balances (F/M)

Bates: 50/50
Colby: 54/46
Wes: 54/46
Vassar 58/42
Conn College 63/37
Trinity College 50/50


Based on available information, the five colleges you listed consider financial need when evaluating domestic applicants (i.e., they are “need-sensitve”). In principle, this might make them somewhat less egalitarian in practice than the five NESCACs (Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Hamilton and Middlebury) that do not consider need (i.e., are “need blind”). Nonetheless, Bates, as one suggestion from your list, seems to offer the general array of attributes you seek.

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What I like about Wesleyan (aside from all its other virtues) is that it is only a stone’s throw from a fairly unpretentious downtown. At least, prior to the pandemic, there were literally dozens of low-cost places to eat and grab take-out.

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That is a good point about being need aware. All of the NESCAC have a wealthy student body, even the need blind ones, although Amherst seems to be a cut above the rest. Some specific numbers are below. Pell % is from the most recent IPEDS. Income figures are inflation adjusted from the Chetty study and are several years old, so they may have changed somewhat today.

In the Chetty study, Bates, Colby, Trinity, and Middlebury composed 4 of the 9 colleges with the highest median parents income in the United States. Trinity had a larger portion of top 1% families than any other college in the United States (26% of kids from top 1%, which is more than portion from bottom 80%). I’m sure this student body wealth and relative lack of economic diversity has some impact on fitting in, although the specific details likely vary from school to school, and from student to student.

Need Aware
Bates – 9% Pell, Median income = $253k, 51% in top 5% income
Trinity – 11% Pell, Median income = $286k, 56% in top 5% income
Colby – 14% Pell, Median income = $263k, 51% in top 5% income
Connecticut – 16% Pell, Median income = $221k, 45% in top 5% income

Partially Need Aware for Domestic
Middlebury* – 17% Pell, Median income = $272k, 53% in top 5% income
Wesleyan** – 18% Pell, Median income = $214k, 45% in top 5% income
*Middlebury is need blind for non-waitlisted and non-international
**Wesleyan says it is need blind for >90% of applicants

Need Blind (for domestic, except for Amherst, which is need blind for all)
Amherst – 30% Pell, Median income = $176k, 41% in top 5% income
Williams – 20% Pell, Median income = $207k, 42% in top 5% income
Hamiliton – 19% Pell, Median income = $233k, 48% in top 5% income
Bowdoin – 16% Pell, Median income = $218k, 46% in top 5% income


Bowdoin and Hamilton, like Middlebury, are need-aware for waitlisted and transfer students, and Hamilton is also need-aware for January admissions.

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At Colby, so so many things are available to every student regardless of finances, from unpaid internships, to outdoors equipment, to career exploration travel, to musical instruments. I knew a handful of Questbridge students there and they said they didn’t feel "outsiders ". In my own experience, you’ll feel this less keenly the further away you are from a city, where wealthier students may decide to go out to a club or restaurant or concert that is not affordable.

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“Amherst – 30% Pell, Median income = $176k, 41% in top 5% income”

This really shows the income divide in a clear way, Pell is typically less than $50K right?

“I would also add Vassar.”

I have a soft spot for Vassar because I grew up a few years in Poughkeepsie, where Vassar is located. However it really isolates itself from Poughkeepsie (not any kind of college town, and I’m being kind), so most Vassar kids head to NYC when they have free time, about a hour and half away, which needless to say is not cheap.

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Yes, the vast majority of Pell eligible students have income less than $50k. A small minority have incomes more than $50k.

While Amherst has had better SES diversity than other NESCAC schools for many years, they have notably improved since the date of the Chetty study, so the Pell% and top 5% grouping above gives a misleading view of lack of middle income students compared to lower income students. At the time of the Chetty study, the distribution was as follows. The higher the income, the greater the degree of overrepresentation, and the lower the income, the greater degree of underrepresentation.

4.4% from 99.9+ percentile income (44x overrepresentation)
17% from 99 to 99.9 percentile income (19x overrepresentation)
20% from 95-99 percentile income (5x overrepresentation)
10% from 90-95 percentile income (2x overrepresentation)
9% from 80-90 percentile income (balanced)
16% from 60-80 percentile income (slight underrepresentation)
19% from 20-60 percentile income (2x underrepresentation)
5% from <20 percentile income (4x underrepresentation)
13% Pell

In the most recent NCES year, Pell increased from 13% at Chetty study to 30%. There is significant year to year variation in this figure. According to Amherst’s website, it dropped to 24% in the following year. As the Pell and lower income % increased in more recent years, I expect both the upper income and middle income kids decreased. How much they decreased is unclear.

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Pell can get a bit higher in families with multiple kids, because it is all based on EFC. Currently a family’s EFC is divided by the # of kids in college, although that system is slated to disappear in 2 years.

So families as high as $80,000 could be included if there are a few kids grouped closely together and all in college, although that’s not going to be typical.


As your decisions arrive, you may want to consider this survey-based ranking, in which two NESCACs (Amherst and Colby) appear:

If a family does not apply for financial aid how does a school know their income?

No and some AOs can see the family didn’t apply for FA, and others can’t. Some colleges might infer family income from address/zip code, HS, and/or parent’s jobs though.

That’s seems odd and not likely. I don’t even know what our income is until all of the books are done. For people who are high income and often those who own businesses, things can vary a lot from year to year. It’s rare for many people to know their income unless they work for a firm which pays them a salary.

It has to have been based on a survey or some other data point.