How to Get Free Tuition at Ivy League Schools and Other Major Colleges

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College at no cost might seem like a pipe dream, but it really does exist — even at the Ivy League level. If your family meets the income requirements for need-based aid, you could get free tuition ⁠at an Ivy League institution or other big-name school. This means a stellar education for you, without worrying about deep student loan debt.

Here are some of the Ivy League colleges that offer needs-based free undergraduate tuition packages:

And here are some other prestigious schools that do the same:

Keep in mind, though, that free tuition does not mean you won’t need to pay anything toward the cost of college. Even when tuition, room and board and fees are all covered, there may be unbilled expenses you’ll need to manage, and some colleges will expect an annual student contribution as well.

Ivy League schools that offer free tuition programs

Princeton University

Princeton, located in Princeton, N.J., was awarded the top spot for national universities in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best College Rankings. But going to such an excellent school does not come cheap — the estimated cost of attendance for 2020-21 is just over $75,000, including room, board and fees.

However, if families make $65,000 or less annually, they can expect free tuition, room and board and fees for their incoming Princeton student.

And this generous needs-based aid continues — even for families that make more than $250,000 per year — based on individual needs. For instance, a family making between $65,000 and $85,000 may expect to have full tuition and fees paid, and to pay just 25% toward room and board. And even for families with an income above $250,000, the average grant covers 49% of tuition for those who have at least two children in college.

Harvard University

Harvard, based in Cambridge, Mass., is an elite school that’s regularly ranked in the top three of American universities. With its academic rigor and stellar reputation, graduating from Harvard may be a gateway to a successful career.

However, that reputation also means Harvard is expensive: For undergrads, the cost of tuition, room and board and fees for two terms in the 2019-20 school year was just about $70,000 ($69,607), while the estimated cost for the 2020-21 year is listed at over $72,000 ($72,391). That price tag might make it seem like going to school there is beyond the reach of most people. However, there are options depending on your financial situation.

Harvard does have a robust financial aid program. Just like Princeton, if your family makes less than $65,000 a year, you can get a free college education, along with room, board and fees. Families with incomes between $65,000 and $150,000 are expected to contribute between 0% and 10% of their income toward a child’s education.

According to the university, 20% of families pay nothing for their child to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the world, and 55% receive needs-based scholarships.

Columbia University

Getting into Columbia, located in New York City, is a big achievement, and its passionate alumni network can help you later on in your career.

Columbia comes with a big price tag — as of the 2019-20 school year, tuition alone was just under $59,000 per year. But if your family makes under $60,000 a year, Columbia will cover the total cost of your tuition, room, board and fees.

Families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 may also contribute a reduced amount toward their child’s education.

Yale University

Yale, located on over 300 acres in New Haven, Conn., also offers generous needs-based packages. According to its website, families whose gross income is less than $75,000 should expect to contribute a big, fat $0 toward their child’s education — and that’s a big difference from Yale’s estimated 2020-21 price tag of just under $75,000, including tuition, room and board.

Yale also offers aid for students whose families earn up to $200,000 per year. Those making between $75,000 and $200,000 will contribute a percentage of their income, based on a sliding scale that begins at 1% and goes up to 20%. Plus, the institution claims that even some families making over $200,000 per year could still be eligible to receive aid.

Brown University

Brown, located in Providence, R.I., has an expected price tag of $76,500 for the 2020-21 academic year, including tuition, room and board and school fees. However, if you are considered a “highest-need” student — meaning your family has an income of less than $60,000 per year and assets totaling less than $100,000 — you can expect to have your tuition, fees and room and board paid for.

Brown says that 97% of families making under $60,000 have applied for and received the needs-based scholarship, and also offers aid for families making up to $200,000 per year. Brown says some families with over $200,000 per year in income received needs-based scholarships; most of those eligible have multiple children in college.

Cornell University

Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell notes on its website that, over the past 20 years, the school has tripled its annual spending on grant aid. Families making less than $60,000, and with total assets of less than $100,000 (including primary home equity), can expect to pay nothing toward their child’s education there.

This means a savings of over $75,000 per expected 2020-21 tuition, room and board and fees for students at the endowed colleges. Cornell also has state contract colleges, with a lower expected tuition of $39,244 for New York state residents.

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth, based in Hanover, N.H., offers free tuition for any student whose family makes less than $100,000 per year and has typical assets for their income. The school’s website notes that families receiving aid may choose to take out loans to help with additional costs, and some students receiving aid are expected to contribute $1,000 to $3,000 per year, which should come from so-called leave-term earnings (those made when the student isn’t enrolled in classes).

For the 2020-21 academic years, tuition, room and board is expected to be approximately $76,000 per year.

Families earning above $100,000 may also be eligible for aid, depending on their unique situation.

The University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia’s University of Pennsylvania, often referred to simply as “Penn,” offers students whose families earn less than $65,500 — and have typical assets — aid packages that include tuition, room and board and fees. Aid packages for such families may also include benefits such as funds for a laptop and summer opportunities.

Students with family incomes between $65,500 and $140,000 can receive aid packages that cover at least the cost of tuition, while those whose families make over $140,000 may be eligible for aid packages for more than half the cost of tuition.

That tuition for the 2020-21 year is expected to be $53,166, along with $11,014 for housing, $5,770 for dining and $6,876 for fees.

The average net cost to students who receive aid has decreased by 23% since 2005, according to Penn’s website.

3 other top schools that offer free tuition programs

Stanford University

Located in Silicon Valley , Stanford, located in Stanford, Calif. — near Palo Alto and just 35 miles south of San Francisco — is often referred to as the “Ivy of the West.” And like the Ivy League schools on our list, Stanford offers free tuition to eligible students.

Beginning in the 2020-21 academic year, Stanford will offer free tuition to students whose families make less than $150,000 per year — this is up from $125,000. If families earn below $65,000, room and board will be covered as well. Stanford notes that students receiving needs-based aid are expected to contribute $5,000 per year in work and summer earnings toward attendance costs.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Along with Harvard, MIT is based in Cambridge, Mass. It’s one of the most elite schools in the world, and offers free tuition for students whose families make less than $90,000 per year.

Texas A&M University

With over 66,000 students, Texas A&M, in College Station, Texas, is one of the largest schools in the country — and it’s also been recognized by Money magazine as one of the nation’s best-value schools.

To help low- and middle-income students attend, Texas A&M launched the Aggie Assurance program. Under this initiative, the school covers the tuition cost for students with an annual family income under $60,000. To be eligible, you must be a Texas resident who’s enrolled full time.

Note that the program only covers the cost of tuition; it doesn’t pay for room, board or other fees. However, you might qualify for other grants or scholarships to cover those expenses.

Choosing the right school for you

The schools noted above are just a sampling of those who offer to cover tuition and other expenses based on need. These free tuition programs are also just one way you can deal with the high cost of tuition, so you won’t have to graduate school buried in student loans.

If you’re not sure where you want to go to school and are worried about affordability, evaluate factors such as cost, reputation and financial aid offerings to pick the best choice for you.

If money is one of the main things on your mind when it comes to college, you can reference our guide to paying for college and how tuition works.

Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report

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Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
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1.24% – 11.98%3Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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1.24% – 12.49%4Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.80% – 11.89%5Undergraduate and Graduate

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2.71% – 12.99%6Undergraduate and Graduate

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3.52% – 9.50%7Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  2. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


4 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
  4. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for the Discover Private Consolidation Loan and include an Auto Debit Reward. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.76% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.83% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.80% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.98% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.97% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 11.26% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 07/10/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

  1. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.176%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 09/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
    1. Undergraduate Loans: Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 2.71% and 12.99%.  Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 3.53% and 14.50%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. The following table shows a 48 month in-school period plus 9 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 60-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate) or 180-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of either 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) or 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans) applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner sign up for automatic payments and the payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. The amount of the discount is dependent upon the loan product and credit history of the borrower at the time of application. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of in-school, deferment, grace or forbearance, unless a regular payment amount has been arranged with the servicer. If you have two (2) consecutive returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the interest rate reduction.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.


7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.


Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.