Even within the prestigious Ivy League, there’s something special about Harvard University. Founded in 1636, it’s the country’s oldest post-secondary school and the alma mater of many noteworthy figures, including numerous U.S. presidents and Nobel Laureates. 

But for many top students, a degree from Harvard is about more than social cachet – often it’s also the ticket to a great-paying job. That’s good news because a stint at Harvard doesn’t always come cheap. For the 2015-2016 academic year, the standard tuition was $45,278. Room and board and other fees bring the total price tag to a hefty $60,659.

That’s pricey even by private school standards. Nationwide, the average cost of a private, non-profit, four-year institution was $31,231 in 2014-2015, according to the College Board. The average for tuition and room and board combined was $42,419. 

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. Today, the school’s endowment of $37.6 billion helps make it possible to offer generous financial aid packages to those in need. 

For the 2015-2016 year, the university says that most students from families making less than $65,000 a year attended absolutely free. If you came from a family making between $65,000 and $150,000, you typically have to kick in 10% of your family income or less. Students with families making slightly more also receive considerable financial support from the school.

One statistic in particular illustrates the scope of the university’s aid program, which is entirely need-based. For roughly 90% percent of families, Harvard actually costs the same as, or less than, an education at a state school.

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 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

Even without taking into account financial aid, a Harvard education is by nearly any measure a terrific investment. For many employers – including some Wall Street banks and prominent consulting firms – having the school on one’s résumé offers an enormous leg up on the competition. According to a survey by the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, the average senior will earn between $50,000 and $69,999 right after graduation. 

Perhaps more important, having attended Harvard gives graduates valuable connections to tap as their careers unfold, allowing them to sustain their success. The 2015-2016 College Salary Report by the research firm PayScale suggests Harvard graduates earn more than those of any other Ivy League school by the mid-point of their career. "Bachelor's degree only" graduates have median earnings of $61,400 in their early career and $126,000 in mid career; Harvard ranking third among schools (ranking based on mid-career salary). Adding in those who went on to get graduate degrees, the figures rise to median earnings of $62,600 for early career and $131,000 for mid, with a rank of fourth. Obviously, it is important to note that these salaries are overall figures, not tied to a specific job or advanced degree; earnings will fluctuate substantially based on those factors. 

In PayScale’s ranking of American universities based on their 20-year return on investment, Harvard comes out No. 34, even before factoring in financial aid. When you factor in getting financial aid and compare Harvard grads only to those from private colleges and those paying out-of-state tuition at public universities, it jumps to No. 11, with a median 20-year net payout of $812,100.

The Bottom Line

Harvard might 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. For more information, see 5 Ways To Get Maximum Student Financial Aid.