With the student debt crisis at the forefront of social and political debate – and tuition growing ever higher – students and families are increasingly concerned about the costs of attending college. More and more, pundits and families alike are evaluating colleges based on data regarding graduates’ earnings. Payscale, for example, ranks institutions based on the “potential financial return of attending each school given the cost of tuition and the payoff in median lifetime earnings associated with each school.” Similarly, more and more discussion has emerged regarding the profitability of certain majors, and the purpose of higher education generally has been called into question. For example, the Thiel Fellowships pay students to pursue scientific and technological research and entrepreneurship in lieu of going to college.
Students still interested in going to college, however, should take note of newly released data indicating that the most affordable college options may be, surprising, the Ivy League. According to statistics from U.S. News & World Report, many of the best colleges in the country are relative steals for the lucky few who earn admission. For example, among Princeton University students who graduate with debt, the average is $5,096 total for all four years – the lowest sum for alumni leaving a national university with debt. In fact, on average, students receiving financial aid from the Ivy League paid about a quarter of the sticker price.
Moreover, most graduates leave with smaller (sometimes significantly smaller) debts than peers who attended less selective schools; some of the schools sending graduates out into the world shouldering the greatest debt burdens are campuses that don’t top the rankings and best-of lists, like Sacred Heart, and Delaware State. Among students who took on debt during college, those who graduated from Massachusetts’ Wheelock College, for example, ended up deepest in the red, by an average of about $50,000.
If that seems surprising, consider that the biggest-name universities are also those who receive the greatest amount of funding from successful graduates, with 66 universities possessing endowments topping $1 billion each. They often use these endowments to offset the cost of admissions, providing generous help to lower- and middle-income students. For example, Harvard University uses its $30 billion endowment to provide 59% of its students with need-based aid, reducing the average cost to $15,486, a 73% discount.
So, the best financial deal for you may be to apply to schools you would not have expected – of course, you need to qualify academically in addition to qualifying for financial aid. Acceptance rates at Ivy League and other top-tier universities hover at around 10 percent or less.