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harvard.jpgA few weeks ago I was invited to give a speech on Myths, Assumptions, and Attitudes in education. It wasn’t a viewpoint I was accustomed to examining. Initially I found myself struggling with the topic, but after a bit I realized that our educational climate is packed with stubborn misconceptions that are incorrect yet refuse to die. Once such misconception is that America’s Ivy League schools are too expensive for the average student to afford.

Every year, I’ll have a conversation with a talented high school senior who will mention that they didn’t consider applying to a college such as Harvard or Yale because their family couldn’t afford the tuition. For whatever reason, the myth persists that Ivy League schools are solely for the rich. After all, Harvard College’s tuition is over $30,000, and the total cost after room, board, and miscellaneous fees is close to $46,000. How could a middle-class family afford that?

The truth of Ivy League affordability, however, is quite different, and the news keeps getting better. In December of 2007, Harvard revealed a new plan to increase financial assistance to undergraduates by 43%. Students from families who earn less than $60,000 will pay nothing. Even at a family-income level of $180,000, families will only be asked to contribute 10% of their income. The end result is that the cost of Harvard is comparable to in-state tuition at a public university. Yale announced a similar plan this month. Other Ivy League schools have similar plans in place.

The reality is that—conversely—an Ivy League school is a fantastic place to apply if you come from a family of limited means. In many cases, you’re going to get a better financial support package than you would from a public institution.

You’re also likely to graduate with less debt, as Ivy League schools are moving to eliminate student loan calculations in financial aid packages. Even now, Ivy League students graduate with significantly less debt than their counterparts who have attended other institutions. The average debt for a senior graduating from Harvard has dropped from $16,000 to $6,400, roughly one-third of the national average. With this new policy in place, that number will fall closer to zero.

As an aside, the ramifications of this reduced student debt can only help shatter another Ivy League myth that incorrectly assumes Ivy League graduates are focused solely on personal economic gain, and pursue career paths of the rich and glamorous. With much less debt, graduates from America’s prestigious institutions will be much freer to pursue altruistic careers instead of feeling pressure to earn money to pay off their alma mater.

Bottom line: It’s worth a shot to apply to an Ivy League school if you’ve got the marks and the achievements to possibly get accepted. Not applying is the same as getting refused, so go for it. Change your life.

Related reading: Recent Economist Article

Image Credit: blisspix

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6 Responses to “Educational Myths: Unaffordable Ivy”

  1. on 25 Feb 2008 at 6:06 pmSarah

    This is great news. However, how does this effect grad students applying to the same universities? If a student form a lower middle class family applies to Harvard or Yale for grad school, do they receive near the same kind of financial assitance?

  2. on 28 Feb 2008 at 1:34 amMike Smart

    Sarah,
    Those are great questions, one which the related articles don’t seem to address. I’d be interested in hearing the answers. I wonder if it very well may vary significantly by each particular graduate school within a given university.

  3. on 29 May 2008 at 11:21 amTim Oey

    I’m a case in point for Harvard being affordable for all. I was a classmate of Mike’s at Harvard. It was less expensive for me to attend Harvard than my own state school. My parents were not able to contribute much financially to my education at the time but Harvard’s financial aid package everything that my family could not.

    Cheers,
    Tim Oey

  4. on 25 Jun 2008 at 3:07 pmRick

    How do you define altruistic career? Does that mean you go to work directly for a radical organization like Sierra Club before ever becoming a productive citizen in private industry?
    Are there not too many of those types already, regardless of how much debt they have from school?

    What’s wrong with honest economic gain?

    The second to last paragraph comes across as elitism by virtue of a low cost education at a snobby school.

  5. on 30 Jun 2008 at 2:06 pmMike Smart

    Rick,
    Thanks for your comments.

    I would define an altruistic career as one in which you place some greater good in front of personal gain.

    I wouldn’t define Sierra Club as a radical organization, nor would I agree that working for Sierra Club is necessarily unproductive, but your example would be one of thousands of possibilities where you put what you perceive to be a greater good in front of your own gain.

    There is nothing wrong with honest economic gain, and if my writing implies that, I apologize. Honest economic gain is a wonderful thing. My point is simply about choice: by reducing college debt, graduates have more options to choose from, and are less restricted by finances in making career decisions.

  6. on 24 Dec 2008 at 9:30 amstuden loan debt

    this is great post and great news published in this article.
    More answers to be given

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