How to Pay For Harvard: Financial Aid and Student Loan Options

 June 30, 2020
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Figuring out how to pay for Harvard University after you gain admission might be easier than you think. Harvard financial aid offers the opportunity to avoid student loans altogether and is often considered one of the nation’s best financial aid packages.

If you’re a prospective undergraduate or graduate student, here’s what you need to know about paying for a Harvard education:

Why paying for Harvard is a unique experience

At a typical school, you might need to resort to federal or private student loans to cover your entire cost of attendance. Harvard’s cost of attendance for the 2020-2021 academic year was $75,891 to $80,041.

Through the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, however, the school promises to cover all costs beyond what you and your family can reasonably contribute. The school accomplishes that via need-based grants and work-study opportunities.

If your family earns less than $65,000 per year, for example, your expected “parent contribution” would be zero.

Thanks to its $39.2 billion endowment, Harvard offers its initiative to all incoming freshmen, both legal U.S. citizens and international students, for up to four years.

How to apply for aid from Harvard

Even though you gain admission to Harvard based only on merit, your access to financial aid is based entirely on need. And you don’t have to come from a low-income family to benefit.

You apply for aid when you apply for admission with this three-step process:

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): Use your FSA ID to complete the FAFSA. You’ll need your parents to supply their latest tax returns. Include Harvard’s school code (E00468) so your completed application is sent to the financial aid office.
  • Complete the CSS Profile: The school requires that applicants use the College Board’s CSS Profile application to send information found in their family’s latest tax returns. Include Harvard’s recipient code (3434).
  • Send additional documents: Harvard asks that applicants use the College Board’s Institutional Documentation Service to securely send their family’s tax, business and other financial documents.

Once you gain admission, the college’s Committee on Financial Aid considers many factors to come up with your parent contribution, including

  • Household income and assets
  • Family size
  • Unusual expenses

If your family is middle-income or higher but has multiple children in college, for example, your parent contribution would be lowered accordingly. The same would be true if your family had unforeseen expenses, such as a medical emergency.

You could use the college’s Net Price Calculator to estimate your parent contribution and award package for one year of attending Harvard. Enter your family information, income and assets to see your estimated scholarship amount.

How Harvard covers your cost of attendance

If your family earns an annual income between $65,000 and $150,000, your parent contribution would represent up to 10% of the cost of attendance. Any family with an annual income surpassing $150,000 would pay proportionally more toward their bill.

Harvard fills the gap between your parent contribution and cost of attendance in a variety of ways, including:

  • Need-based scholarships
  • Student employment opportunities
  • Outside scholarships, including research grants

If you earn scholarships from other organizations, they could lessen the need for a part-time job before or during the school year. Otherwise, Harvard expects incoming students to find a summer job to contribute to their cost of attendance. In-school employment is also common with many Harvard students working during the academic year, according to the school.

How to cover your parent contribution

Ideally, your parent contribution will be an amount your family can reasonably afford. Here are a few ways you can go about covering it.

Choose the best tuition payment plan for you

Here are the tuition payment plans Harvard students and their families can choose from:

  • Pay monthly: With a monthly payment plan, you agree to pay a semester’s worth of fees in four installments. This could lessen the burden of tuition payments.
  • Prepay future tuition: With a tuition prepayment plan, you pay your remaining years of academic fees to avoid annual rate increases.

Negotiate your aid package

There are unique situations where meeting parent contributions can be difficult. If your family’s finances suddenly change, for example, or you experience a significant change in circumstances, contact Harvard’s financial aid office to explain your situation. You might be in a position to negotiate your aid package. But be prepared to prove your case with supporting documents.

Consider your student loan options

To cover your parent contribution in extreme cases, your mom or dad could opt for a Parent PLUS Loan through the federal government or a private student loan. As a student, you also could research federal and private loan options.

Before you sign up for additional loans, however, check out the Harvard Loan Program. It offers student loans at a relatively low 4.00% interest rate (as of June 30, 2020). It has other unique features, including no interest during your enrollment and grace period as well as no origination fees.

You could opt for debt through the Harvard Loan Program if your summer job doesn’t pay enough to cover your student contribution to the cost of attendance. Federal and private loans also could be options if you need to finance other expenses not accounted for in your cost of attendance.

How to pay for Harvard University as a graduate student

The financial aid offered to graduate and professional students isn’t as generous. Essentially, there’s no guarantee you won’t need to take out student loans.

Use Harvard’s admissions and aid page to research your specific school’s options. You might be surprised by the number of grants available.

Harvard Business School, for example, first announced its scholarships for first-generation MBA students in 2017. And Harvard Medical School claims it administered more than $37 million in loans, employment and scholarships during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Each school’s financial aid office will connect you with the Harvard Loan Program. If you’re a medical student, for example, you’ll have three options:

  • Harvard Medical School Revolving Loan
  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and PLUS Loans
  • Private loans

Be sure to compare the following characteristics before you decide between your graduate loan options:

  • Interest rates
  • Repayment plans
  • Repayment protections
  • Borrower benefits, such as autopay discounts

If you’re considering a Harvard Medical School Unsubsidized Revolving Loan, for example, you might beat its 5% interest rate with a recommended lender in our private student loan marketplace. Just make sure you don’t miss out on benefits or protections that are exclusive to school or federal loans.

Why paying for Harvard University shouldn’t be too hard

According to student loan history, Harvard invented zero-interest student loans for its low-income students as far back as 1838. The school has long helped finance admission for low- and middle-income students.

But with the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, the school has taken a no-loans-necessary approach for undergraduate students. Even graduate and professional students have access to a wide range of college-specific financial aid.

If you’re admitted to Harvard, remember that you’ve already accomplished the hardest part. Financing your education is easier than you think.

Christina Majaski contributed to this report.

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