How Ivy League Admissions Work

Ivy League Financial Aid

While Ivy League colleges have some of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, they also have some of the most generous financial aid policies. That's because they boast insane institutional endowments. Even after losing more than 27 percent in 2009, Harvard's endowment was still $26 billion at the end of the fiscal year [source: Harvard Gazette]. Yale's stands at $22.9 billion, down 24.6 percent [source: Yale Public Affairs]. But even as their endowments sustained severe losses, many Ivy League schools expanded their commitment to low-income students.

Admission to all Ivy League schools is "need-blind." Yale was the first to institute the policy in 1966. Under this policy, all candidates are evaluated for admission with no regard to ability to pay. The overall message is: If you can get into one of these highly selective schools, they will do everything in their power to help you afford it.

In recent years, Harvard, Princeton and Yale introduced sliding scale tuition policies that offer significant discounts to students from middle-to-lower-income households. In some cases, no payment is required.

In the case of Yale and Harvard, if a student's family earns less than $60,000 a year, they will pay nothing for their education. At both schools, the percentage the student pays goes up incrementally (from zero to 10 percent of annual income) with family earnings of $60,000 to $120,000 a year [source: Fitzsimmons and Yale Public Affairs]. In 2008, Dartmouth eliminated tuition for students from families with incomes under $75,000 and extended its need-blind admissions policy to international students [source: Dartmouth Public Affairs].

Princeton is unique among Ivies (and all U.S. colleges for that matter) for its "no loans" policy for all students. If you get into Princeton, the college will supply grants -- not loans -- to pay for all demonstrated need, allowing each and every student to graduate debt-free. The "no loans" policy proved incredibly successful for attracting low-income applicants to Princeton. From 1998-99 (when the no loans system was launched) to 2005-06, matriculation of low-income student doubled at Princeton [source: FinAid].

The only bad news about financial aid and scholarships at Ivy League schools is that they are entirely need-based. Ivy League schools are prohibited from offering athletic scholarships and none of the schools offer merit-based or talent-based awards. That said, Ivy League students are free to win merit-based scholarships from outside institutions and organizations, including state, federal and private scholarships.

Keep reading for lots more information and resources about higher education.

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