Ivy League Schools: The Affordable Choice?

By Ryan Hickey updated on Thursday, October 17, 2013
We associate many things with Ivy League schools; prestige, academic rigor, and green, expansive campuses; to name a few.  One idea that the thought of Ivy Leagues seldom conjures is that of affordability, unless it is lack thereof.  The pervading idea that Ivy League and Private College access is restricted to the wealthy discourages all too many students from applying to said schools.  This idea is an erroneous one.  Ivy League Schools and other private institutions often offer a lower net tuition than that of public institutions.

Merely looking at a school’s advertised cost of attendance is a common mistake.  While, on average, the advertised costs of public college attendance are much lower than those of private colleges, this is not necessarily reflected in the out-of-pocket expenses a student’s family is expected to bear. While the budgets of many state schools are steadily decreasing, many private institutions continue to receive large endowments.  In U.S. News article “Universities With the Largest Financial Endowments”, Devon Haynie reports that Harvard University’s endowment at the end of fiscal year 2012 was well over $30 billion. The other nine schools reported endowments ranging from over $6 billion to over $19 billion.  Notably, seven of the top ten spots for largest endowment funds were occupied by prestigious private institutions; six of those occupy the top six spots.

Why are endowment sizes important to prospective students?  Simply put, the larger the endowment size to administrative expenses ratio is, the greater potential for financial generosity a school has.  According to Business Insider, “if a student’s family earns less than $60,000 per year, Harvard charges nothing for attendance. Yale follows the same policy.”  The odds of receiving an equally generous offer at a state school are slim.  The majority of state schools simply lack the funds to make such offers.  Still other schools choose to focus their assets on specific programs for low-income students. For example, Vassar’s Diving Into Research program which “encourages students to pick a major in the sciences”, according to Richard Pérez-Peña, in his article “Efforts to Recruit Poor Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges”, written in the New York Times.

In the aforementioned New York Times article, Pérez-Peña states that roughly four-fifths of the 50 most prestigious private colleges have need-blind admissions.  By disregarding a student’s financial status in the admissions process, admissions officers can better focus on the given student’s relevant qualifications, such as grade point average, SAT scores, community involvement, achievements, and perceived aptitude.  

In short, don’t be lead astray by a college’s advertised costs.  Setting your sites high and applying to one or more Ivy League School may reward you handsomely.
About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's and an expert in college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in admissions for nearly a decade writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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