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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:
- Princeton University
- Harvard University
- Columbia University
- Yale University
- Brown University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- The University of Pennsylvania
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, 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, 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.
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, 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, 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.
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, 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.
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
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.
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.
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
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|0.99% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate|
|0.99% – 11.44%3||Undergraduate|
|1.50% – 11.33%4||Undergraduate|
|1.12% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate|
|1.15% – 11.01%6||Undergraduate|
|3.80% – 9.36%8||Undergraduate|
|* 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 College Ave.
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.
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.
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 8/9/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
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3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs.
Rates are effective as of 10/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). 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. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.
1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% 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 4/1/2021. 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 Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Funding U.
Funding U Disclosures
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
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. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. 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 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.