Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

How much does it really cost to attend Ivy League Schools?

5 minute read

The cost of attending an Ivy League university has long been a topic of concern for students and their families going through the college admissions process. The Ivy Leagues (Harvard University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University, and University of Pennsylvania) are known to have a low acceptance rate, but many people are skeptical of how easy it is to attend after admittance due to steep Ivy League tuition.  However, recent changes in financial aid policies, such as Princeton University's generous announcement on financial aid, have sparked a renewed discussion on the accessibility of an Ivy League degree. In this blog post, I'll shine a spotlight specifically on my alma mater, Princeton. 

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My journey at Princeton involved graduate school in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program, and, remarkably, I managed to graduate without accumulating any debt. Upon receiving my financial aid package, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the depth of commitment from my alma mater in making its education accessible. The comprehensive financial aid not only covered tuition but also included research and teaching assistantships, which not only alleviated the financial burden but also enhanced my educational journey and allowed me to focus instead on personal expenses. This experience serves as a quiet acknowledgment of these institutions' dedication to ensuring that financial constraints do not impede Ivy League students' pursuit of knowledge, and it exemplifies how a world-class higher education can be within reach for more students of academic excellence.

Mentoring high school students opened my eyes to a lesser-known truth: achieving a debt-free education at prestigious institutions like Princeton is more common than many assume. I noticed my students limiting their university choices based on the perceived “sticker” cost of undergraduate tuition (more on this below). The financial burden of applying to their dream schools seemed daunting, leading them to focus solely on the sticker price rather than considering the comprehensive financial aid packages that might be revealed post-acceptance. This realization underscored the need to demystify the process and shed light on the accessibility of top-tier education for those willing to explore their options to become an Ivy League graduate.

Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of reasons explaining how this can be accomplished:

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Sticker Shock vs. Reality

The sticker price cost of Ivy League schools can be intimidating, with tuition, room, board, and additional fees totaling over $80,000 annually. Yet, it's crucial to distinguish between the sticker price and the actual cost paid by students receiving need-based assistance. Many Ivy League institutions are committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students, ensuring that no qualified student is deterred by financial constraints. For example, starting next fall, undergraduates from families earning up to $100,000 annually will not be required to pay for tuition or room and board. Additionally, families earning up to $300,000 annually will receive additional support.

The No-Loan Policy

Since 2001, Princeton has maintained a no-loan policy in its financial aid packages, a decision that has positively affected thousands of students by covering tuition, and other expenses through a combination of grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. This policy ensures that students graduate without the burden of student loan debt, providing a substantial advantage as they embark on their post-graduate journeys.

Work-Study Programs

Work study programs offer a diverse array of employment opportunities, allowing students to delve into research projects, community service initiatives, or administrative roles that align with their academic interests. Crucially, the flexibility of work hours acknowledges the delicate balance between work and academics, ensuring that students can fully engage in both. This not only reduces the financial burden but also equips students with practical skills that enhance their post-graduate employability.

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The Real Cost of an Ivy League Education

Generally speaking, national universities are now recognizing the importance of cultivating a diverse community of United States and international students who bring varied perspectives and experiences. Investing in need-based financial assistance is an investment in future leaders who will contribute meaningfully to society, regardless of their socioeconomic background. So, the cost of attending these schools is not an insurmountable obstacle, especially for students eligible for this assistance. These institutions are committed to fostering inclusivity and diversity by ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder access to a world-class education. 

Princeton's initiatives should serve as an inspiration for other institutions to prioritize financial accessibility and explore long-term solutions to address the challenges in higher education financing. By demystifying the true cost of education and highlighting the commitment to need-based aid, it becomes evident that for many students, the dream of attending these prestigious institutions can indeed become a reality, free from the shackles of financial burden.