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How to Graduate From an Ivy League School Debt-Free

The top U.S. colleges and universities are often members of the Ivy League, that association of top-notch schools that only accept the best and brightest, offer an educational experience to die for, and encourage students to forge relationships that last a lifetime. They are also pricey: Princeton and Harvard, for example, charge tuition and fees of more than $40,000 per year -- and that’s not counting room, board, and other incidentals, like books.

With price points that high, is it really worthwhile for the average person to consider attending these venerable institutions of higher learning? For the most part, the answer is yes. While these schools are not for everyone, most represent a real educational value -- and offer generous aid packages that can enable those of less comfortable means to attend without the onus of heavy post-graduation debt.

Once admitted, financial aid is practically guaranteed
Ivy League schools are tough to get into, and offer a rigorous academic experience. For those with the chops, however, money should be no object. Members of the Ivy League have need-blind admissions policies, and do not consider ability to pay when making decisions on applicants.

Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., for example, awards an average of $44,000 to 60% of its student population. The school actually has a kind of sliding fee scale: Families that make less than $65,000 annually are not expected to kick in any costs whatever, while those that make between $65,000 and $150,000 per year may pay up to 10% of costs. For those who earn $150,000 or more, the costs will be proportionally higher. The school proudly proclaims that “100% of our students can graduate debt-free."

Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., was the first to offer need-based aid packages that excluded loans, and echoing the policy at Harvard, students from families earning $65,000 or less aren’t expected to pay a dime at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Dartmouth College, in Hanover, N.H., is also committed to meeting 100% of financial need; the average scholarship for those entering last fall was $42,000.

While each of the eight members of the Ivy League offer an outstanding education, Dartmouth also has an exceptionally high four-year graduation rate for its bachelor’s programs and offers a very high return on investment, as well.

The other four schools -- Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania -- have similarly substantial aid programs, and each merits consideration as much as the ones listed above. Though a college education can be expensive, there is no reason to exclude Ivy League schools from your list because of cost. Harvard notes that the cost of attendance for 90% of students and their families is the same -- or less -- than for any state school. That certainly sounds like a bargain to me.

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  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 6:22 PM, OrangeFan wrote:

    Ivy League educations are very affordable for exactly 2 economic segments of our country: 1) The lower/middle income and 2) The ultra rich. Ivy leagues are astronomically expensive for the in-between group which receive zero aid. If you make just above the aid cutoff (usually around $200K) you should expect zero aid, which makes the Ivy Leagues a tough proposition, which is a real shame. It's really unfair for the group caught in the middle who decide their kids can't afford to go, but the kids in the income bracket just below can go with a two-thirds scholarship. Considering the kids all graduate from an Ivy Leagues school and are in position for great careers, it would be much more fair to just lower the price of admission for all students to $30K per year and if the lower income kids can't afford it, then they get loans which they have to repay when they get those stellar jobs at graduation. The current system is totally unfair for the "middle" bracket of qualified families. It may be that for 90% of the kids it's cheaper to go to Harvard than for their state school, but for my kid it's $250K for the Ivy 4-year degree versus $60K all-in for the best state school where we live (which is a great school). It's a real killer for that 10% and something needs to be changed to even out the cost.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 6:31 PM, detta21 wrote:

    This article did nothing to tell you about how to graduate from an Ivy League school debt-free. It merely stated the school's philosophy and policy. Please give tactics. What about the other 40% who get nothing at Harvard. Even 10% of the yearly cost to attend there is a large cost for most people. What is the yearly cost to attend Harvard less $44,000 for the 60% who receive a benefit. It's $61, 450, leaving $17,450 difference for the 6% who are accepted. Please write an article that gives one solid information about exactly what to do to graduate debt-free if you want to attend and are accepted.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 3:12 AM, VitamanD wrote:

    Or...go to a cheaper college for undergrad, work hard and then get a PhD from an Ivy League. That's what I did.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 7:19 AM, worryboutcollege wrote:

    Totally agree with Orangefan...a family earning $200k per year is expected to fund $60k per year for education...30% of AGI...with little help. Really upsetting and dare I say..."unfair".

    Maybe the Gov't should set up rules similar to the mortgage least the way it used to more than x% of income for a family should be spent on higher education...the rest becomes financial need.

    Oh, btw, all the tax funded aid, and college funded aid...serves to drive up the cost of tuition as well...I am sure these schools set college tuition rates depending on how many students will pay vs. how many will not...more students who don't pay are undoubtedly driving up the cost for the students who have to pay...double whammy.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 7:35 AM, JePonce wrote:

    How wonderful....more tax cuts for the rich who only attend Ivy League schools. Try to get into one if your family is not wealthy or politically connected.

    The vast majority of students attend less expensive schools.

    When Obama hijacked the school loan program, interest on school loans became a federal tax that adds billions to the general fund annually.

    Rhetoric is the Art of ruling the minds of sayth Plato.

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 11:13 AM, cdkeli wrote:

    Ummmm,,,,have a daddy that works on Wall Street?

  • Report this Comment On January 27, 2014, at 9:42 PM, logicanyone wrote:

    The issue is not salary, the issue is assets. This article says nothing about assets. If you make a low salary but have assets, they assume you can spend a certain percentage of the assets so you will likely get much less than expected. And, if your student has saved money, they expect them to spend all of it on college tuition. So, if you are responsible and save for college, good luck getting financial aid. Financial aid is for people who were irresponsible with their money and spent it all.

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Foolish financial writer since early 2012, striving to demystify the intriguing field of finance -- which, contrary to popular opinion, is truly what makes the world go 'round.

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