How Much Does an Ivy League Education Cost?

students with backpacks walking on the campus of University of Pennsylvania during the fall

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It’s no secret that college is expensive, and there’s proof in the data. For the 2020-21 school year, the average published cost of tuition and fees for a full-time undergraduate student attending a four-year, out-of-state institution is $27,020, according to College Board. When attending a private nonprofit four-year institution, that figure jumps to $37,650—an increase of 2.1% from the year before, prior to adjusting for inflation.

Ivy league schools—all eight of which are private nonprofit institutions—tend to have an even higher price tag. Tuition at these eight elite academic institutions starts at $49,653 for the least expensive of them, which is Harvard, and only goes up from there. And that's without the cost of room and board, books, fees, and other entities.

If you do qualify for admission to an Ivy League school, the good news is that these colleges and universities tend to be especially generous with financial help. At some, you may even have the chance to graduate with zero student loan debt. 

A net price calculator can help you determine the amount you might pay to attend a particular academic institution, and most schools have one on their website. Using a net price calculator can be a more accurate way of estimating costs, rather than just looking at tuition and fees, which don't take financial aid into account. 

Average Cost of an Ivy League College

The average cost of tuition alone for an Ivy League college was $56,746 for the 2020-21 academic year. The table below shows how much each of the eight schools charged in tuition, as well as the overall estimated cost. The institutions are listed in order from least expensive tuition to most expensive. 

Ivy League School 2020-21 Tuition 2020-21 Estimated Cost of Attendance with Fees
Harvard College $49,653 $76,479
University of Pennsylvania $53,166 $79,635
Princeton University $53,890 $83,241
Dartmouth College $57,796 $79,525
Cornell University $58,586 $77,952
Brown University $59,254 $80,448
Yale College $59,950 $77,750
Columbia University $61,671 $80,339
Average $56,746 $78,417

Tuition fees are paid to the college or university in order to attend courses and earn a degree. The estimated cost of attendance takes other expenses beyond just tuition into account, including rent, food, utilities, books and supplies, and personal expenses. The assumption when estimating these costs is that students live on campus. 

Your cost of attendance may not perfectly match with these estimates, as there are many factors that can impact college costs, including room and board if you choose to live off campus, for example, or have individual medical expenses.

Do Ivy League Institutions Offer Financial Aid?

Ivy Leagues are generous with financial aid, as they have a shared goal of meeting inclusivity by ensuring tuition fees aren't an obstacle to attend. In fact, many students who are admitted to an Ivy League school may have the chance to graduate college without taking out any student loans. 

As the financial aid policies for each Ivy League school demonstrate, most schools don't expect their students to borrow. They instead provide grants and scholarships that don't have to be paid back:

  • Harvard: About 55% of Harvard students receive scholarship aid, and 20% pay nothing to attend at all. Families that earn less than $65,000 per year are not expected to make any financial contribution.
  • Yale: This institution does not expect students to borrow for school. Financial aid packages are built around scholarships, parent contributions, and student contributions. Parents who make under $75,000 per year are not required to make a financial contribution. 
  • Brown: Students are not expected to borrow, and loans are not part of the financial aid package for 100% of students who qualify for assistance. Families with under $100,000 in income aren't expected to make a contribution, and 45% of the class of 2024 received need-based aid that doesn't have to be repaid.
  • Cornell: The average grant amount at Cornell was $40,686 for a first-year student in the class of 2021, with the highest grant in that academic year reaching $76,997. Cornell does include loans as part of its financial aid packages, but guarantees that families making less than $60,000 with assets less than $100,000 will have no loans nor be required to make a contribution.
  • Princeton: Of Princeton graduates in the 2019-20 school year, 83% left campus debt-free. Princeton also provided an average grant amount of $56,500 for students admitted to the class of 2023. And students from families with incomes below $65,000 can qualify for a grant that covers 100% of their costs of tuition and room and board.
  • Penn: Students are not expected to take out loans, as Penn instead aims to cover 100% of attendance costs with grants, parental support, and student contributions. Families with incomes less than $65,500 receive aid packages that cover tuition, fees, room, and board. 
  • Columbia: Students are not expected to borrow. Columbia provides more than $150 million in grants and scholarships annually, distributed to 50% of students. The average grant award is $52,073. Parents with income below $60,000 are not expected to contribute any funds to their student’s education. 
  • Dartmouth: According to its website, 100% of students at Dartmouth have their financial needs met, “no matter who they are or where they’re from.” Dartmouth says its scholarship will cover 100% of tuition, without loans, for families with less than $100,000 in income and “typical” assets.

How to Pay for an Ivy League Education

Ivy League colleges obtain information from your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to estimate the amount of your financial need, which is based on details you provide—Social Security number, tax returns, and other records of money earned. Ideally, the financial aid package offered to you will cover your full costs. 

Aim to complete the FAFSA as early as possible when it becomes available on October 1.

The FAFSA includes an Expected Family Contribution, which is based on your family’s income and other financial criteria. The amount of your EFC is subtracted from the cost of attendance to determine eligibility for need-based aid. While this has been used as one of the key factors schools consider when creating aid packages, the EFC is being replaced by a "Student Aid Index" beginning July 2023. There will also be a new formula used to evaluate need-based aid.

Since many Ivy League schools set their own rules that determine when parents are expected to contribute, the shift away from using the EFC may not have as much of an impact on those attending one of these eight schools. 

Still, it's possible the Ivy League school you're attending will overestimate the amount you can pay toward your education. In this case, the grants and scholarships they offer might not cover 100% of your expenses. Student loans could help to cover the extra amount, but be sure not to borrow more than you are able.