What Does Harvard Actually Cost?

To most people, the term Ivy League refers to a group of academic institutions, conjuring up images of elitism, selectivity, and academic excellence. What they may not know, though, is that it's also an athletic conference in which these private schools participated. This group consists of 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 institution and is 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 an Ivy League school. Read on to find out what studying at Harvard really costs.

Key Takeaways

  • Attending Harvard costs $49,653 in tuition fees 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.

Understanding Harvard's Costs

For many top students, a Harvard degree is about more than just a social cachet. In fact, 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.

Household income determines how much families are required to contribute to the cost of education at Harvard:

  • Families with a household income below $65,000 aren't required to make any contribution to students' educational costs.
  • Students from families that make 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 grant disbursed per student was more than $53,000. Meanwhile, 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, 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. PayScale's College Salary Report 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 $147,700 at the mid-career mark, with Harvard ranking sixth in the country in that category. The median income increases to $159,400 by mid-career for those with a graduate degree. Keep in mind that earnings fluctuate based on a graduate's job and type of degree.

PayScale also ranks American universities based on their 20-year return on investment (ROI). Harvard took the 19th 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 sixth position with a median 20-year net payout of $1,014,000.

Harvard's Demographics and Diversity Issues

According to the school's website, Harvard is committed to diversity. Home to students from more than 100 different countries, Harvard states that it aims to register diverse individuals with different backgrounds, beliefs, and financial situations. The ethnicities of the admitted class of 2024 were broken up as follows:

But the school has come under fire for what some allege is a discriminatory admissions process. A student advocacy group called Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit against the school in 2014, alleging that Harvard's admissions process was race-based and discriminated against Asian Americans. Both the lower court and the federal appeals court that presided over the case found that the school's practices were not discriminatory.

Drew Gilpin Faust, who was president of Harvard in 2016, created a task force to address diversity issues at the school, including gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. The report made a series of recommendations such as the hiring of diverse staff, improved mentoring, and departmental plans to advance inclusion.

Harvard Costs FAQs

How Much Does It Cost to Go to Harvard University for 4 Years?

A four-year undergraduate degree program at Harvard University costs $198,612 without room and board or any other fees. Financial aid can significantly cut down the out-of-pocket expenses for those who qualify and need it the most.

How Much Is Harvard Tuition 2020?

The tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year at Harvard is $49,653.

How Much Financial Aid Will I Get at Harvard?

The amount of financial aid you receive depends on your household income. Harvard states that the average grant exceeds $53,000 per student.

Is Harvard Free?

The university states that one of its main goals is to be more affordable and doesn't require students to take out loans to fund their education. Students whose household income falls between $65,000 and $150,000 usually contribute between 0% and 10% of their annual income toward costs. Anyone with a household income above that threshold may still qualify for financial aid. Those whose incomes are below $65,000 won't pay anything.

Can You Get Into Harvard With Money?

The Harvard admissions process is need-blind, which means having money doesn't necessarily mean you'll be accepted to the school. Applying for admissions and to Harvard's financial aid program is completely based on merit—not money.

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.