The term Ivy League refers a group of academic institutions that normally conjure up images of elitism, selectivity, and academic excellence. This group is made up of eight private schools found across the United States—Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Harvard. Attending one of these schools is a dream for many, with Harvard being a big contender on many students' lists. Founded in 1636, Harvard is the country’s oldest post-secondary school and the alma mater of many noteworthy figures, including a number of U.S. presidents and Nobel Laureates. But how much does it cost to attend? You may be surprised to find that financial aid can significantly reduce the hefty price tag associated with getting an education at the Ivy League school. Read on to find out what studying at Harvard really costs.

Key Takeaways

  • Attending Harvard costs $49,653 in tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • The school provides lucrative financial aid packages to many of its students through its large endowment fund.
  • Most students whose families make less than $65,000 attended Harvard for free in the most recent academic year. 
  • The cost to attend Harvard is less than a state school for 90% of students.
  • Harvard graduates with only an undergraduate degree can earn as much as $146,800 by mid-career.

How Much Does it Cost?

For many top students, a Harvard degree is about more than social cachet—it’s often the ticket to a great-paying job. That’s good news because a stint at Harvard doesn’t always come cheap. The standard tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year is $49,653 without any financial aid. Room and board and other fees bring the total price tag to a hefty $72,391. That’s pricey even by private school standards. The average cost of a private, non-profit, four-year institution nationally is $32,410, according to the College Board. The average for tuition and room and board combined was $48,510. 

Plentiful Financial Aid

One of the benefits of a uniquely successful alumni pool is that many give back to the school and make it easier for low- and middle-income students to attend the institution. The school’s endowment, which was reported to be $40.9 billion at the end of the 2019 fiscal year, helps make it possible to offer generous financial aid packages to those in need. 

Attending Harvard costs the same or less than a state school for roughly 90% percent of families with students enrolled. According to the university, more than half of the students enrolled at Harvard receive need-based scholarships. Families with a household income below $65,000 aren't required to make any contribution to students' educational costs. Students from families making between $65,000 and $150,000 typically have to kick in 10% of their family income or less. Those who come from families making slightly more also receive considerable financial support from the school. The average out-of-pocket costs for students who had to pay amounted to $12,000.

The average out-of-pocket costs to those who have to pay to go to Harvard was estimated to be $12,000.

The university says that its admissions process is entirely need-blind. If you come from a lower-income family and are eligible to receive a sizable financial aid package, you theoretically have the same chance of admission as someone from a wealthier family. While international students cannot receive federal financial aid awards, they are eligible for university funds, which can help alleviate the cost of attending the institution.

Big Dividends Down the Road

A Harvard education is, by nearly any measure, an amazing investment even when you factor out the financial aid you may receive. For many employers—including some Wall Street banks and prominent consulting firms—having the school on a resume offers an enormous leg up on the competition. According to a 2018 survey by the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, more than half of those graduating expected to earn $70,000 or more in their first year on the job. That's well above the average college graduate who earned $51,000 in 2017.

Here's another important fact. Attending Harvard leads graduates to valuable connections as their careers unfold, allowing them to sustain their success. The College Salary Report by the research firm PayScale suggested Harvard graduates are among the top earners nationally when it comes to salary at the midpoint of their careers. Graduates who only have an undergraduate degree have median earnings of $146,800 at the mid-career mark, with Harvard ranking sixth in the country in that category. The median income increases to $156,500 by mid-career for those with a graduate degree. One important caveat is that these salaries are overall figures and aren't tied to a specific job or advanced degree—earnings tend to fluctuate substantially based on those factors. 

In PayScale’s ranking of American universities based on their 20-year return on investment (ROI), Harvard placed in the 25th spot, even before factoring in financial aid. When you factor in getting financial aid and compare Harvard graduates only to those from private colleges and those paying out-of-state tuition at public universities, it jumps to the 12th position with a median 20-year net payout of $952,000.

The Bottom Line

Harvard may have one of the country’s highest tuition rates, but many students pay far less—thanks to a strong financial aid program. Either way, research suggests that an education at this illustrious school is a terrific long-term investment if you can afford it.