The Ivy Coach Daily

May 17, 2024

Do Ivy League Schools Offer Financial Aid?

Colloquial knowledge would have one believe that Ivy League schools are the stomping grounds of the 1%, only affordable to the wealthiest among us. And this PR issue on the part of these elite institutions is somewhat understandable. After all, the richest students in the world are vastly overrepresented on Ivy League campuses, and an Ivy League-wide policy infamously prohibits these schools from offering merit and athletics-based scholarships. This norm is the result of a shared culture of excellence stemming from the idea that every student admitted to an Ivy League school has incredible merit, which defeats the purpose of merit-based aid.

Given this context, many are surprised to learn that Ivy League schools are actually among the most affordable schools out there. How is this possible? Liberated by immense endowments supported by many wealthy benefactors, the Ivy League has some of the most generous financial aid packages in undergraduate education.

Ivy League Financial Aid Packages by School

Ivy League SchoolFull Cost of Tuition (On-Campus)Percent of Student Body on Financial AidIncome Threshold for Free TuitionAverage Family ResponsibilityNo Loan Policy?
Brown University$91,67652%<$125,000$27,580Yes
Columbia University$89,58750%<$150,000$27,580Yes
Cornell University$92,15050%<$75,000$24,262No
Dartmouth College$91,31251%<$125,000$24,078No
Harvard University$82,86655%<$85,000$16,100Yes
University of Pennsylvania$92,28846%<$140,000$26,066Yes
Princeton University$86,70062%<$65,000$24,500Yes
Yale University$83,88053%<$75,000$20,605Yes

The chart above details financial aid metrics across the eight Ivy League schools. Each school claims to cover 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need, but as the data indicates, the meaning of this claim varies widely across the eight institutions. Perhaps the most telling metric is an institution’s relationship to student loans. Cornell and Dartmouth both offer optional student loans as part of some financial aid packages, whereas the remaining schools are committed to no loan policies, which means that the only loans that are encouraged by these schools are government-funded loans given to students in extenuating circumstances. The expectation at most Ivy League schools is that the financial aid package is generous enough that a given student’s family will be able to cover all of it without going into debt.

Counterintuitively, the schools with objectively the best financial aid packages are also the most prestigious: Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. These schools have the highest proportion of students on financial aid, and graduate alumni with the least amount of debt. While the income threshold for free tuition may seem rather low at these schools relative to other schools, it should be noted that families at the respective income threshold levels noted above pay no costs at all, not just no costs for tuition. As the tone-setters of the Ivy League, the Big Three have led the charge in diversifying the Ivy League from a socioeconomic standpoint.

Making an Ivy League School Economically Feasible is Most Difficult for Middle-Class Students

When low-income and high-income students are faced with admission to an Ivy League school, an easy decision lies before them. For low-income students, this school will probably offer the most generous financial aid package available. For high-income students, every school is affordable and so there is no reason not to go to one that has a proven track record of opening many doors in many industries post-grad.

Middle-income students, on the other hand, are often faced with a less clear cut decision. Ivy League schools will cover a lot of their expenses, but usually not all, while other schools may offer compelling merit-based scholarships that cut costs down to zero. As noted by The New York Times, middle class students are underrepresented on Ivy League campuses for this very reason. Of course, even in the face of a robust scholarship from a lackluster school, middle-income students should absolutely attend the best school they get into. Nothing beats the lifelong benefits of making it through the Ivy gates!

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