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The Ivy League May Be More Affordable Than You Think

Everyone knows that Ivy League admissions are extraordinarily competitive. The statistics posted by schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale each spring discourage many students from applying.

But even some of the highly-accomplished students who might clear the academic hurdles and win a seat in an Ivy League school never pursue that option because they assume that the schools cost more than they or their families could ever afford. After all, what would be the point of winning admission to Columbia or Dartmouth if you couldn't pay the tuition?

In fact, the 8 Ivy League schools have more generous financial aid policies than many people realize. It's true that these schools are expensive, and that many of their students come from wealthy families. But all of these schools extend need-based financial aid to a large number of their students, and several have 'need-blind' admissions. That means that they admit students regardless of their ability to pay tuition and will meet 100 per cent of every admitted student's assessed financial aid need.

A qualified student might pay no more to attend an Ivy League school than they would to attend their state university. That's because schools like Harvard and Yale have the financial resources to extend generous aid packages. Once financial aid awards are taken into account, there may be little or no difference between the tuition at a public university and the tuition at an Ivy League institution.

It's even possible for a student to be financially better off choosing an Ivy League school over another university. Princeton, for example, introduced an innovative 'no loan' financial aid policy several years ago that promises to cover all of a student's assessed financial aid need through scholarships, grants, and work-study awards. Someone who would have to borrow several tens of thousands of dollars as part of a financial aid package at a local college or university could, at Princeton, graduate without having any educational loans to repay.

These financial aid resources are fully available to students from middle-income families. The Ivy League schools have been putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to increasing the diversity of their student bodies, and that interest in diversity includes recruiting a larger proportion of middle- and lower-income students. The Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which was launched in early 2004, exempts families with annual incomes below $60,000 from having to contribute anything to a child's Harvard education. Families with annual income between $60,000 and $80,000 are expected to contribute at a reduced rate. Similarly, Yale's policy is to exempt families with annual incomes of $45,000 or less from contributing to educational costs and to require reduced contributions from families earning between $45,000 and $80,000.

The Ivy League schools also extend exceptional financial aid support for qualified international students. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all include international students under their need-blind admissions policies, meaning that international students qualify for the same amounts of need-based aid that U.S. citizens and permanent residents do. Citizens and permanent residents of Canada and Mexico are covered under the University of Pennsylvania's need-blind policy, while Cornell has some aid available for Canadian and Mexican citizens.

It's not just the Ivy League that offers more financial aid than many people realize. A number of elite U.S. colleges and universities have amended their financial aid packages in recent years to make their education more affordable to middle-class students. Several schools, including Stanford and Duke, have changed the way that residential property is treated in determining a student's financial need. Families that own homes benefit from these changes, which use home equity instead of market value in their calculations and which place a cap on the dollar amount of equity that will be used in determining a family's expected contributions.

Other schools have taken major steps to minimize student debt. Emory University's new Emory Advantage program replaces need-based loans with grants for students from families earning up to $50,000 per year and limits the amount of loans for students from families earning between $50,000 and $100,000. And Davidson College, widely regarded as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, announced this spring that it will cover students' demonstrated financial need entirely through grants and work-study awards so that students can graduate debt-free.

There's no denying that an Ivy League education is expensive. The 'sticker price' on the tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses required to attend an Ivy League school for a year adds up to more than many people earn in the same amount of time. But these schools have both the financial resources to extend generous support to their students and a genuine interest in making their education available to any qualified applicant, regardless of their financial need. No one should let money concerns stand between them and their dream of an Ivy League education.

To learn more about financial aid at the different Ivy League schools, see our webpage on "Ivy League Financial Aid Policies."

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