Think the Ivies Are Impossible to Afford? Think Again!

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students walking around the school campus.

Think the Ivies Are Impossible to Afford? Think Again!

Cha-ching! That’s the sound of a college education increasing in cost every year. The price tag of a college education has soared over the last few decades leaving families questioning how they can afford to pay for their children to attend the Ivies. While post-secondary education is voluntary, many career routes still require a four-year degree or more, and where you attend is still important.

With the already high rates of tuition and the invisible costs schools don’t always talk about, being able to afford the Ivies becomes even more of a financial feat. Parents and students alike may be forced to take out exorbitant loans to fund their dreams.

Young woman writing on a table.

Students may have to get jobs and save their money. The investment costs might be high, close to the price of a new vehicle at some schools, but there are many ways to know how to attend the Ivies without selling a kidney or mortgaging the family home.

Let’s consider how much you can expect to pay for your ivy League education and then discuss how you can afford the Ivies.

Tuition and Fees

The first expense that makes college at the Ivy League so expensive is the tuition and fees. These are the costs that are constantly rising, with no end in sight. Every school has a different increase they expect each year with some costs rising several thousand between the spring and fall of the next year. The Ivy leagues are transparent about how much an Ivy League education costs, providing a detailed calculation of how much students can expect to pay each year.

The cost of taking classes for a year at an Ivy League school ranges from $51,904 to $ 60,944.

An empty college application form attached with US dollar bills

The associated and usually undefined fees ranged from small student activity fees of $309 to health insurance fees of $5,282. Each school has different types of fees charged.

You’ll want to think about the number of years you’ll be enrolled as well. Multiple the tuition cost by 4 or 6, as those are the number of years it usually takes to complete a 4-year Bachelor’s degree. The tuition alone may have your family scrambling to figure out how you can afford the Ivies.

Room and Board

The second major expense for an Ivy League education is paying for room and board. If you go away for school, you will need a place to stay. Housing is typically included when calculating expenses, but meal plans may be an extra charge on top of what you’ll pay for your dorm.

University housing includes dorms and off-campus apartments as well as meal plans. At each university, they have some housing options that cost almost as much as tuition. Room and board might cost students upwards of $21,000.

Invisible Costs

Besides tuition, fees, room, and board, there are other numerous invisible, or variable, costs that colleges and universities do not often include when the cost of an Ivy League education is discussed. These invisible costs add up quickly from the time a student decides they want to apply for college.

Application Fees

Applications are a major expense that is not often calculated when discussing the costs of an Ivy league education. Applying to colleges costs $75 for each school with the common application. If a student applies to five schools, they can expect to pay $375. Each additional school has an additional application fee, so you will need to think about how many schools you’ll want to apply to based on how much it costs.

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As a part of the application, you are expected to pay for the costs of registering for tests. If you take both SAT and the ACT, along with any number of AP Exams, then the costs increase even further. Students can expect to pay around $50 to $90 dollars each to take the SAT and ACT tests. Retests would incur additional charges, along with sending out score reports to additional schools. Just taking two standardized tests could cost $160.


The costs to travel are rising with an average plane ticket costing 300 to 400 dollars before luggage and seat selections. Students may need to travel to visit colleges and get a feel for the campus before making a decision. If they are choosing between multiple schools, they may need to arrange travel to multiple locations. This travel cost for a student and a guardian would be doubled. If overnight stays are required, the costs of hotels add to the expense.

Travel expenses also include transportation costs during the move-in week or for returning home during holidays and breaks. Students may spend as little as $1,500 or as much as $3,500 on travel alone.

These are the invisible costs that nobody counts when thinking of whether a college education will be affordable. If a student attends college in Harvard, but they live in California, the transportation costs just to travel home will be a consistent expense several times a year.

School Supplies

Once you’re enrolled in courses and get your course schedule, you’ll need to purchase supplies. This could include everything from dorm materials, like bedding and toiletries, to textbooks and a new laptop.

Most students will need to purchase at least one or two textbooks, if not more. Besides this, you may need to equip your desk and backpack, along with your wardrobe and shoes. Expense calculations allocate books and personal expenses from a few hundred to four or five thousand.

For many students, college is the first time they are living alone and largely responsible for taking care of themselves. Having what you need while away at college is another expense that it is important to factor in.

Pledging and Social Activities

Opening week on a college campus is a bustling, enthusiastic time with clubs and sororities vying for attention. Students have to decide if they will take on the added expense of pledging a Greek organization or joining one of the numerous clubs on campus.

Group of students studying in a room.

Most clubs require dues and fees as well, which can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on how active a charter is. These are extra social costs that you’ll need to factor in when deciding how you can afford the Ivies.

Meal Plans

Most schools offer a daily meal plan that allows students to eat meals in campus dining halls. This arrangement gives students nutritious options while staying on campus in dorms that do not usually have kitchens. The meal plans may even be combined with the housing plan. The costs of a meal plan can range from $5,946 to $7,017.


College students are notorious party goers. You can expect to attend a fair amount of entertainment from on-campus events to off-campus happenings. Sports games, birthday celebrations, and weekend getaways may add further personal expenses to what you can realistically expect to pay while in college.

Not thinking of these social activities when thinking of the affordability of college can leave you sitting forlorn and isolated in your dorm with nothing to do and no money to do it with.

Summer Plans

After slogging through a tough year, you’ll have a choice to make every summer. To continue taking classes and make progress ahead or relax and take a full vacation? Many students will choose to take classes during the summer, which are an added tuition and housing expense as well. Most college expense calculators will calculate tuition for a summer semester automatically.

If a student chooses to take the summer off, they may end up going on several vacations with family and friends. Road trip anyone? Vacations will be another expense, so unless you’re planning to get a part-time job or work on the weekends, you’ll need to factor in summer expenses, too.

Total Estimated Yearly Costs

With all the costs, both visible and invisible, a college student could expect to need anywhere from $77,690 to $85,060 to fund a year of an Ivy League education. That’s the cost of a brand new, souped up luxury vehicle fresh off the car lot.

Over four years, at the higher end, the sticker price rises to $340,240, the cost of a  modest 4-bedroom house in a metropolitan city. So how do millions of students afford to attend the Ivies? What’s their secret? Being intentional about Ivy League financial aid.

As a measure of a school’s generosity, the net cost is a measure of how much money families have to pay after their financial aid has been accounted for. The higher the net cost, the less generous the Ivy League school is toward families who have financial need.

The lower the net cost, the more generous the school is. Harvard regularly provides enough financial aid to make the net costs to students and their families lower than the other Ivy leagues. At the same time, Princeton admits more low-income students than any of the other Ivy Leagues with full tuition offered to families making up to $160,000.

Financial Aid at the Ivy Leagues

In one year, 55 percent of Harvard families receive financial aid with 20 percent of families paying nothing. Each family ends up paying an average of $12,000, and Harvard guarantees that 100% of students can graduate with no student loan debt.

If you’ve been wondering how you can afford to attend the Ivies with such a hefty price tag, then getting the school to pay for you is the first way.

Historically, Harvard has offered free tuition for students with a family income below $65,000. If a student’s family makes below that amount, then they will also be offered a generous financial aid package that consists of scholarships, grants, fellowships, and work study jobs. You’ll hear financial advisors express caution against using loans, but they are another option to fund your Ivy League education among many alternatives.

Merit-based scholarships may be program specific funds available for students who apply. Different programs will offer scholarships based on a similar review process used in admission review. Students can apply for program-specific scholarships, but their application may often be implied when they select the program, so their review is automatic.

These awards are determined usually by faculty or program administrators. They are based on the student’s academic record, resume, and extracurricular activities and usually reward students with a demonstrated interest and passion for the program subject.

Grants are usually state and federal funds earmarked for specific types of students. There are grants for students from specific cities and states, who speak specific languages, who attend specific schools or districts, and who have specific characteristics, like being disabled, a foster child, or a single mother.

Fellowships are similar to grants and scholarships in that they are free gifts usually tied to a program or organization. Fellowships may require students to meet specific stipulations, like participation in a club or program, or completion of a research project or presentation. Like scholarships and grants, fellowships may often be named after well-known historical figures or prestigious people.

Work study jobs are part-time jobs for students supplemented by the federal government. The jobs are usually on campus or related to university operations. Students work part-time and earn a wage, which is calculated as a part of their financial aid package that they have to earn over time. Work study jobs are a great way to earn experience while helping finance your own education.

Ivy League Financial Assistance

When schools are seeking to increase college access and diversify their student body, financial assistance is one of the ways to reach this goal. Admitting students on a need-blind basis also helps to increase the likelihood of less affluent students being offered admission regardless of their ability to pay.

At each of the Ivy League schools, many promise to meet the demonstrated need of any student they admit. The financial aid is calculated according to different formulas, much the same way their tuition and fees are calculated in secrecy.

A girl thinking while holding a notebook and pencil.

The availability of substantial financial aid is tied to the size of a school’s endowment. A larger endowment will mean a school can offer financial assistance to more students. Maintaining a large endowment allows an Ivy League to think long term and be strategic with the students it offers admission. Being able to fully fund the education for more students is both charitable and ethical.

Paying for the Ivies

The first step toward being able to afford and paying for the Ivies is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is provided free by the federal government. You’ll need to register for an account, and you’ll use the same account when you complete the FAFSA every year.

With this form, you’ll provide the government with documentation of your family background, including income. This form will calculate a number, called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), that schools can use to determine how much financial aid you’ll need. The EFC doesn’t correlate to much of anything you can understand, so don’t try to use it to figure out your potential financial aid packages.

The EFC is important for school financial aid offices. They’ll use it to put together a package that includes the different types of aid. The package might include grants, fellowships, and scholarships. You will use the financial aid package to determine how you can afford the Ivies.

At most colleges, the school will offer a student grants, fellowships, work study jobs, and any scholarships they have applied for and been awarded.

You may have to submit additional applications for scholarships. In general, Ivy League financial aid packages may cover the full tuition costs and additional costs of expected expenses, or students and their families may still need to come up with funds.

Other Ways to Pay

Outside Scholarships- Students with distinguished achievements and awards can use their exceptional experiences to earn scholarships. These are private financial gifts offered to students for a variety of accomplishments.

Scholarships are offered from a wide range of organizations including ethnic and religious councils to athletic and arts organizations. Students will have to do their own research on finding outside scholarships, and they’ll need to keep track of the awards they win to notify their school.

Savings Plans- Many families are able to use 529 savings plans and that is how they can afford the Ivies. This long term savings plan encourages parents to set aside specific amounts each year of their child’s lives starting from birth or as early as possible.

Similar to a retirement plan, the money builds over time and after 20 years, you’ll have a significant chunk of money to use toward your education. These savings plans require foresight and consistent financial planning, so talk to your parents early to find out if you have a 529 savings plan or something similar.

Affording the Ivies with AdmissionSight

You’ve tallied up the costs and you’ve calculated the funds available from a variety of sources including financial aid packages, savings, and scholarships. Wondering how you can afford the Ivies and how you’ll cover the costs of your college education are just one part of your concerns. Give AdmissionSight a chance to explain the Ivy league financial assistance process and help guide you through deciding how to attend the Ivies.



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