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

Updated on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Free college tuition might seem like a pipe dream, but it really exists — even at the Ivy League level. If your family meets the income requirements for need-based aid, you could attend a big-name or Ivy League school tuition-free, avoiding heavy student debt.

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

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

  What is a tuition-free school?

Attending a college with “free tuition” means your primary costs, such as tuition and fees, will likely be covered. However, your financial aid package might not cover all school-related expenses, such as room and board. Some universities also expect students to pitch in by working a college job.

Overall, a tuition-free college (sometimes called a “no loans” college) can help eliminate the need for student loans, potentially allowing you to graduate debt-free.

Ivy League schools that offer free tuition programs

Princeton University

Estimated cost of attendance: $79,540

Princeton, located in Princeton, N.J., was awarded the top spot for national universities in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best College Rankings. But going to such a highly regarded school doesn’t come cheap — the estimated cost of attendance for 2022-2023 was $79,540, including tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

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 based on individual needs, even for families that make more than $250,000 per year. For instance, a family making between $65,000 and $85,000 may expect to have full tuition and fees covered, while only needing to pay 25% toward room and board. And for families with an income above $250,000, the average grant covers 51% of tuition for those with at least two children in college.

Harvard University

Estimated cost of attendance: $80,263

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

However, that reputation also means Harvard is expensive: For undergrads, the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board for two terms in the 2022-2023 school year was $80,263. That price tag might make it seem like going to school there is beyond the reach of most people.

Fortunately, Harvard has a robust financial aid program. Just like Princeton, if your family makes less than $75,000 a year, you can get a free college education, including room, board and fees.

Families earning between $75,000 and $150,000 are expected to contribute between 0% and 10% of their income toward a child’s education.

According to the university, more than 22% 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

Estimated cost of attendance: $86,097

Columbia, located in New York City, is another well-respected Ivy League institution with a passionate alum network that might help you later in your career.

Likewise, Columbia comes with a big price tag — as of the 2022-2023 school year, tuition and fees were $65,524 per year. However, the expected parent contribution is $0 for those with incomes below $66,000 (and typical assets). And if your family’s annual income is below $150,000, Columbia will cover your tuition.

Columbia prides itself on being a “no loans” college and therefore doesn’t include student loan options in your initial financial aid award letter.

Yale University

Estimated cost of attendance: $83,880

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 $0 toward their child’s education — and that’s a big discount on Yale’s 2023-2024 price tag of $83,880, including tuition, room and board.

Yale even offers aid for students whose families earn up to $200,000 per year. Those making between $75,000 and $200,000 (with typical assets) will contribute a percentage of their income based on a sliding scale between 1% and 20%.

Worried you make too much to receive financial assistance? Well, 25% of students with an annual family income above $250,000 per year still received institutional aid from Yale.

Brown University

Estimated cost of attendance: $87,648

Brown, located in Providence, R.I., has an overall price tag of $87,648 for the 2023-2024 academic year, including tuition, room and board and school fees. However, if you’re considered a “highest-need” student — meaning your family has an income of less than $60,000 per year and assets below $100,000 — you can expect Brown to cover your tuition, fees, room and board.

Families who make $125,000 or less per year may also be eligible for a tuition-free scholarship.

Brown says that 99% of families making under $60,000 have applied for and received the needs-based scholarship. And even some families making over $200,000 per year received needs-based scholarships, particularly if they have multiple children in college.

Cornell University

Estimated cost of attendance: $83,296

Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell provides robust financial aid packages that cover 100% of an eligible undergraduate’s financial need. Families making less than $60,000 with typical assets can expect to pay nothing toward their child’s education.

This means a savings of over $83,000 on the 2022-2023 tuition, room and board and fees for students at the endowed colleges. Cornell also has state contract colleges, with a lower tuition of $41,958 for New York state residents.

Dartmouth College

Estimated cost of attendance: $83,802

Dartmouth, based in Hanover, N.H., offers free tuition for any student whose family makes $125,000 or less per year and has typical assets for their income. Those with incomes below $65,000 will have an expected parent contribution of $0 toward their educational costs.

Families receiving aid may choose to take out federal student loans to help with additional costs. Dartmouth expects aid recipients to contribute around $1,000 to $3,000 per year, which should come from leave-term earnings (funds earned when the student isn’t enrolled in classes).

For the 2022-2023 academic year, Dartmouth’s cost of attendance was approximately $83,802 per year.

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

University of Pennsylvania

Estimated cost of attendance: $85,738

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, fees, room and board. 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 (with typical assets) can receive aid packages that cover at least the cost of tuition. For families making over $140,000, you may be eligible for aid packages for more than half the cost of tuition.

The 2022-2023 tuition was $56,212, along with $11,754 for on-campus housing, $6,134 for dining and $7,240 for fees.

According to Penn’s website, the average net cost to students who receive aid has decreased by 19.5% since 2005.

5 other top schools that offer free tuition programs

It’s not just the Ivy League where you can find colleges with full ride scholarships or other tuition-free programs. Here are some other top-flight schools with generous aid packages.

Stanford University

Estimated cost of attendance: $87,833

Located in Silicon Valley, 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 2023-2024 academic year, Stanford will offer free tuition, room and board to students whose families make less than $100,000 per year. Your full tuition is also covered if you earn between $100,000 to $150,000 a year.

You can even apply for aid even if your family makes above $150,000 — though Stanford awards it on a sliding scale based on your family’s financial situation.

Stanford notes that students receiving need-based aid are expected to contribute $5,000 per year in work and summer earnings toward attendance costs.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Estimated cost of attendance: $79,454

Like Harvard, MIT is based in Cambridge, Mass. Some rankings consider it among the most elite schools in the world, and it offers free tuition for students whose families make less than $140,000 per year.

According to MIT’s website, 37% of students attend tuition-free and 85% of the 2022 graduates finished school with no student loan debt.

Texas A&M University

Estimated cost of attendance: $30,608 (in-state), $58,976 (out-of-state)

With over 74,000 students, Texas A&M, in College Station, Texas, is one of the largest schools in the country. Money magazine also recognized it 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 and fees for students with an annual family income under $60,000. To be eligible, you must be a Texas resident and enrolled full time.

Tuition support grants are available for undergraduates with families earning between $60,000 and $130,000. These grants range from $500 to $1,500, depending on your family’s circumstances.

Duke University

Estimated cost of attendance: $84,517

Based in Durham, N.C., Duke is one of the nation’s top research universities, especially in medical studies. The high price tag shouldn’t scare you off since Duke offers a solid financial aid program to help recruit low-income students.

Duke will cover 100% of your financial need through grants, scholarships and work-study opportunities if your family earns less than $40,000 per year. Around 51% of Duke undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, with 70% graduating debt-free.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Estimated cost of attendance: $26,118 (in-state) or $57,370 (out-of-state)

Founded in 1789 and nestled in the heart of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC was the nation’s first public institution of higher education. Now one of the leading colleges in the country, it offers tuition assistance to those with demonstrated financial need.

The Carolina Covenant covers the total cost of attendance with scholarships, grants and work-study programs for those whose family income doesn’t exceed 200% of the federal poverty guideline.

The income threshold varies based on family size. For example, if a family of four is applying for UNC aid for the 2023-2024 school year, their annual income from 2021 must fall below $53,000 to be considered.

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 college tuition, so you won’t have to join the many Americans struggling with student loan debt.

If you’re unsure 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.

For more ideas, check out our guide to full-ride scholarships to help you graduate debt-free.

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