Tips for Affording an Ivy League Education

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman writing on a table.

Tips for Affording an Ivy League Education

Each year, millions of high school seniors start their search for a college. It’s a good strategy to apply to at least two dream schools such as Harvard, Standford, and Princeton, two target schools in which your grades, SAT or ACT scores, and class ranking fit well within their qualifications, and one or two safety schools, in which you feel they are pretty much guaranteed to get into. It’s important to learn “how to pay for the Ivies”.

Unfortunately, many highly-qualified students never even apply to their dream schools as they believe, mistakenly, they could never come up with the cash to pay for the Ivies or the other elite colleges.

A man working with his classmates on a library.

However, Harvard, Standford, Princeton, and the like are filled with middle-class and economically disadvantaged students, and with a little digging, you will discover that paying for the Ivies is one of the college admission myths. In other words, affording the Ivies isn’t as hard as you might think!

It’s true that college tuition rates don’t make it seem all that easy for high school graduates to afford. After all, colleges are required to publish their estimated annual cost of attendance. In 2022, the cost of attending elite colleges is currently around $75,000 a year.

However, potential Ivy League attendees are doing themselves and their potential alma maters a disservice by giving these high prices a single look and automatically assuming that attending these schools simply isn’t in the realm of possibilities.

Going to college is very much like going to a car dealer to buy a new car. Almost nobody pays the full price in the case of elite colleges. They are much more concerned with choosing the right mix of students than they are concerned about how little students can afford to pay.

Elite schools have huge endowment funds, so trust us when we say they will never go broke admitting students who need financial help. So, let’s take a look at some tips for affording the Ivies.

The difference between real price and advertised price.

So, how is it possible that the most elite colleges can be affordable? Experts say there are actually two prices for college: the net price and the sticker price.

Three students working on a table.

When you are accepted to attend the school, your school will send you an award letter that breaks down exactly what you are expected to pay with your personal financial circumstances taken into account.

Once the various awards, student loans, work-study opportunities, and other financial aid options are spelled out in the award letter, you’ll see how to pay for the Ivies. It becomes much more affordable when all these factors are taken into account.

How much does an Ivy League education cost?

The average cost of a college education nationwide is around $25,487 for a public college. However, these rates are substantially higher for out-of-state tuition. Meanwhile, the average cost of attending a private university is around $53,217 per year. That’s nearly double!

Ivy League schools – all of which are private nonprofit institutions – tend to have a much higher price tag. Tuition at these eight elite academic institutions starts at around $74,528 for the least expensive of them, which is surprisingly Harvard. Yale University is the next most expensive, at around $80,700.

If you do qualify for admission to an Ivy League school, the good news is that these colleges and universities are often extremely generous when it comes to financial assistance. In fact, many of the Ivies do not expect the majority of their students to take out student loans at all, which makes most Ivies a real steal.

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Many elite colleges provide a net price calculator, so you can get a much closer estimate of where you are standing financially, but since grants and scholarships are where the real money for financial aid comes from, you will still need to await your award letter to actually know precisely how much you’ll have to pay.

What are the additional costs of an Ivy League school?

We’ve already discussed the costs of attending a unique school like Harvard, Yale, or Columbia, but your tuition, room and board, and books are only part of the picture.

Say Columbia is your dream school and you are just itching to live in the Big Apple. Well, that’s great, but are you going to spend 95 percent of your time just playing World of Warcraft in your dorm? Of course not. You are going to want to hit the town on some weekends, and that can cost big money. So take that into account.

Another problem for many students is when the campus closes down for breaks between semesters. That means the cafeteria where you eat your meals is going to be closed, and you’ll need to live on your own for a few weeks. In addition, if you get homesick, and many students do, then there is the expense of flying back home for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

And if you decide to live off-campus instead of staying in a college dorm, there are plenty more expenses. With rent, security deposits, utilities, furniture, and food, not to mention the possibility that you will need a car to get back and forth from campus to your apartment, that can cost an additional several thousand dollars.

As a consequence, there is probably a 5 percent mismatch between what the college or university estimates and your actual expenses, and as much as 15 percent mismatch between the estimate the college gives you and your actual living expenses if you live off-campus.

Also, if you are a relatively disadvantaged student and have to work a student job as part of your student aid package, be careful. You might have been awarded financial aid based on 10 hours of work or more, but that doesn’t mean you automatically get paid for all those hours. If you have a heavy student course and all you can manage is 5 hours per week, you’ll have less student aid.

What kind of financial aid do the Ivies offer?

Ivy League schools have a reputation for being extremely generous when it comes to financial aid. Harvard, for example, has an endowment fund of $53.2 billion dollars. Yale has an endowment fund of $42.3 billion, and most elite colleges are not far behind.

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And the vast majority of Ivy League and elite colleges spend as much as 20% of their yearly endowment funds on scholarships and student support. Since endowment money is heavily invested into high yield investment transactions, elite schools can afford to be generous.

Plus, the vast majority of elite schools, including all the Ivies, have a goal to help accepted applicants attend their institutions without having to worry about the cost. Here are some general statistics about Ivy League Schools in relationship to student financial aid:


Roughly 55% of Harvard Students receive scholarships and financial aid, and at least 20% pay nothing at all.

If a family makes $75,000 or less, there is no expectation of financial contribution by the family, and even families making $150,000 per year qualify for financial aid. More than 90 percent of students, pay less than they would if attending a public university.


Yale bases family contribution based upon a comprehensive review of parents’ income parental assets, family size, the number of children attending college, and student assets. Typically, students with parents making less than $75,000 pay nothing.


Brown says that they base financial aid based upon financial supplementation by the university, rather than the ability to pay. Nevertheless, students are not expected to borrow money for student loans, and families making less than $100,000 rarely are called upon to make financial contributions. Over 45% of current students receive need-based contributions that do not have to be repaid.


The average need-based grant at Cornell was $43,250 in 2021 and went as far as $72,280 fro some students. Cornell takes a comprehensive look at both parents’ assets and income, but in general, if a parent makes $75,000 or less or has less than $100,000 dollars worth of assets, no student loans are required.


Princeton covers full tuition and some of the room and board costs for students from families earning up to $140,000 and covers all of the tuition for students from families making between $140,000 and $160,000. Students with family incomes of $75,000 or less can qualify for grants that cover 100 percent of their tuition, room, and board.


Penn aims at full student loan packages to cover full tuition, room, and board, for families making less than $75,000, Note that Penn expects families earning more to contribute more, but their financial package includes things such as books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. Only around 20% of all students at Penn wind up taking student loans.


Columbia’s financial aid program is centered around students not taking out any student loans. Yes, parents earning over $60,000 per year are expected to help out, but a Columbia education is definitely affordable.


Dartmouth guarantees that 100% of a student’s financial needs will be met no matter where they are from. This school offers scholarships without any loans for families making less than $100,000.

As you can see, paying for the Ivies is not as big a deal as you might imagine. And the plain fact is, most students wind up with significantly less debt than if they attended either a public or a private university.

However, the perceived cost is generally the number one factor holding many students from applying to elite colleges as compared to attending either a community college or a public university.

How to Pay for the Ivies: 4 Must-See Tips

Now that you have a better understanding of how much it costs to actually attend elite schools, you’re still probably wondering how to pay for the Ivies. We’ve got you covered! Here are some of the most effective tips for affording these top-tier schools and “how to pay for the Ivies”.

Get started early

If you want to get the most out of your financial aid, start doing research as soon as possible. Demand for loans and grants skyrockets as more students start looking for assistance. Getting started early will help you beat the crowd so that you can take advantage of the most valuable offers and opportunities.

Students lounging in the stairs of a building.

You should also take the time to start talking with your parents about how to pay for the Ivies. They’re a critical part of paying for your overall tuition most likely, so it’s important to broach this topic sooner rather than later.

You’ll also want to apply as early as possible to the dream schools of your choice. It only makes sense that even elite schools have a cap on the number of grants they provide, so apply, get accepted, and get an award letter from your school as soon as possible.

Submit your FAFSA as early as possible

Since your financial aid will be based heavily on your FAFSA, you’ll want to submit this document as early as possible. The FAFSA is the key to Federal Grants, which help pay a significant level of college expenses.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines how much federal aid students can receive. Filling out the application doesn’t take too long, but it takes a few weeks or months to get processed. The sooner you get it completed and submitted, the earlier you can figure out what federal funding you can receive.

Utilize Financial Resources

All universities have financial aid departments, and they have helped thousands of students through the financial aid maze. When it comes to figuring out how to pay for the Ivies, there is not a single financial situation they haven’t heard of. Once you are accepted, a school wants you to definitely attend their school rather than the competition. So, don’t be afraid to contact your school’s financial office to learn about the specifics of what they’re offering and what process you should take in order to gain these rewards.

Build a Savings account

It’s very wise for a student to put away extra money for expenses not covered by your financial aid package. Work a part-time job and save it away. This will often make up the difference between being a miser who never goes out and being a student that is fully engaged in the student life. You were resourceful enough to get yourself into an elite school. Be equally savvy about your savings!

How to get into Ivy League Schools: 6 ways to stand out in your application.

The critical components of your Ivy League application are academic performance, test scores, letters of recommendation, your essay, and extracurriculars. These factors will determine your chances of getting accepted. Let’s explore each of these in greater depth to know how to pay for the Ivies.

1.Academic Performance

It is assumed that you will take challenging courses and have excellent grades in those subjects, not just the basics.

Ivy League schools pay attention to not only your grades, but the difficulty of the courses you are choosing, so pack your academic performance with challenging courses and ace the vast majority of them. While grades do matter, how challenging the courses you choose are the most critical element.

2. Test Scores

SAT and ACT scores matter, but not as much as you think. As a matter of fact, your test scores have been significantly downgraded in the last few years by every college.

Students who get accepted into Ivy League schools generally have very high test scores but most are far from perfect. students who take the SAT score 1600. If you apply to a university that makes your test scores optional, be careful that the rest of your application really shines.

3. Letters of Recommendation

When applying to elite schools, letters of recommendation are often included. These build up your reputation but choose your recommendations wisely. A senator or a representative is much more impressive than a high school teacher or a principal. The better the recommendation, the more weight the letters carry.

4. Personal Essay

Personal essays help determine whether you are a good fit for the university. It should be thought-provoking and personal.

As Ivy League and Elite schools often select as few as 5 percent of all applicants, your personal essay may make the difference in whether you get in or not. Read plenty of personal essays on the web and then emulate them putting your own touches on them.

5. Extracurriculars

If you want to get into the Ivy League, strong extracurriculars are critical. The reason is that elite schools are looking for applicants who have the dedication to put one or two extracurriculars to the test.

Elite schools are not looking for dabblers, who engage in every extracurricular on the face of the earth. They are looking more for dedication to one or two.

6. Networking

Getting into an elite school is not just about how to pay for the Ivies. It also helps to network with the right people.

Network with as many former alumni, students, and professors to get valuable information about how to make your application shine. And do this as early as possible, You don’t want to wait till your senior year to network and discover you made many mistakes that hurt your chance for admission.

AdmissionSight has helped countless students get into the schools of their dreams. Contact us today to learn more about how to pay for the Ivies and what we offer. We’ll set up a free consultation to answer any of your questions.


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