NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
With the rising cost of college, it isn't surprising that many families are feeling strapped by the financial burden of sending their children to school.
But one of the best sources to tap for financial resources are schools themselves -- and some are more generous than others.
Nearly 100 schools are able to fully meet their students' needs with financial aid that includes grants, scholarships, loans and work-study awards, according to data on more than 1,500 colleges collected by Thomson Peterson's.
Need is based on the Department of Education's formula for "expected family contribution" -- the difference between the EFC and what it costs to attend that school for a year is the student's need.
At Pomona College in California, for instance, during the 2003-2004 academic year all 795 students who were awarded need-based aid got packages that met 100 percent of their financial needs.
While most of the colleges that can meet 100 percent of need are private schools, several public schools make the grade as well, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The type of financial aid is also important to consider.
While loans help alleviate the immediate pain of a large tuition bill, they saddle students with burdensome debt once they graduate. Grants, on the other hand, are golden because they don't have to be paid back.
Some schools don't award any of their need-based financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships, relying entirely on loans and other "self-help" forms of aid.
When it comes to "free" money and percentage of needs met, some schools outshine others hands down.
At Princeton University, for example, which costs $41,910 according to Thomson Peterson's, the full need of every undergraduate student is met with an award consisting of University grants, scholarships from external sources and a campus job. No student is required to take a loan.
Washington University in St. Louis is also a member of the 100 percent-of-needs-met club. The university awarded 77 percent of its financial aid dollars in scholarships and grants in 2004-2005, according to Thomson Peterson's. Cost of attendance -- which includes tuition, room and board and other living expenses -- is $45,816 there.
At Oberlin College in Ohio, the average aid package was $23,508, and the 1,473 students who secured scholarship and grants received an average of $18,033 in that form of aid.
But according to Kevin Knotts of Thomson Peterson's, the type and amount of aid a student receives ultimately comes down to a single variable: the student.
"The financial aid decision is very much a business decision by the school. The packages they offer depend on what the school is trying to create for itself and for its student body," Knotts said.
Click here for steps on how to survive the college search.
Click here to read about the rising cost of tuition at private schools.
|The 100% club
These are 10 of nearly 100 colleges that fully meet their students' financial aid needs. Some, however, are more generous than others when it comes to giving out "free money."
|% total $ awarded as
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology
|University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
|University of Southern California
|Washington University in St. Louis
|* Cost for out-of-state students
Source: Thomson Peterson's data from 2003-2005