Don't let sticker shock keep you from driving to your goals

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF

What do a Mercedes and Harvard University, Lexus and Stanford University, and Cadillac and Yale University have in common?

Well, each possesses significant name brand recognition, a tradition of historical brilliance, and a certain symbol of success by affiliation. And, yes, each is also among the most expensive in their respective categories.

But what if you could get one of these vehicles, or the car of your dreams, for free or even for a fraction of the sticker price. Would you be interested?

It's a loaded question, to be sure, but the answer would presumably be "yes" for most people. Now, getting your hands on one of these high-end cars for free is probably unlikely. However, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that a student, maybe even your student, might be able to attend Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and many other first-rate institutions for free or far less than you could have ever imagined.

Though the cost of a college education in undeniably high, particularly at most name brand schools, it is not uncommon for students with fine academic resumes and demonstrated financial need to end up paying the same amount, or even less, at many private colleges as they would at a state institution. The difference can often be traced to the healthy endowments that many schools possess.

Luxury for less is definitely within arm's reach at many well-established universities who have sizable endowments for the express purpose of assisting quality applicants who have a demonstrated financial need.

For example, Harvard University, where the all-in, sticker price for a student in residence is $52,652 this year, has what's called the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative. This program offers students whose family income is currently $60,000, or less, a cost free education. This benchmark is being raised to $65,000 next fall, with an index to provide aid to students whose families, in some cases, make up to $200,000 per year.

Harvard's financial aid website offers compelling data about its financial aid program. The Facts Page located under the financial aid link offers a typical financial aid package for a student in the Class of 2015. The associated graphic reveals a typical Harvard Scholarship of $38,900, with a typical parent contribution of $11,400.

Stanford University, which costs $57,198 for on-campus residents this year, offers similar financial support for its undergraduates. For families with a total annual income of $60,000 and typical assets, the university does not expect a parent contribution toward educational costs, though Stanford students are still expected to contribute to their own personal expenses through summer employment, part-time work during the school year and personal savings.

Stanford also commits to students whose parents total annual income falls below $100,000 and possess typical assets for that income level that all tuition charges will be covered with a combination of need-based scholarship, federal and state grants, and/or outside scholarship funds.

Yale University, which costs $56,600 per annum this year for on-campus residents, provides comparable no-cost aid packages to Harvard and Stanford. For Yale undergraduates whose parents' annual income falls below $65,000, no family contribution is expected for educational expenses. According to the university's website, the average parent contribution for a Yale undergraduate is approximately $10,000.

Like the others, Princeton University also offers free tuition and room & board to students whose families make $60,000 a year, and below. Unlike the others, Princeton does not impose a ceiling on the amount a family can make and still receive assistance. A matrix on the school's website illustrates an index of what an applicant might receive based on family's income, with full tuition being a possibility for families who earn between $100 - $120,000.

But let's say ivy covered halls are not your student's thing. There are lots of other great educational values out there where a student can receive excellence for economy.

The website maintains a list of The 10 Best Colleges With Free Tuition. Yes, the competition for acceptance to these schools is predictably high, just as it is at the other schools mentioned, but the financial upside is enormous.

Cooper Union (New York, NY), one of the country's leading institutions for the fine arts, architecture, and engineering; Barclay College (Haviland, KS), a Bible college offering programs in Youth Ministry, Pastor Ministry, Christian Elementary Education, and other Christian-based programs; and College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, MO), a comprehensive university with 34 degree programs, are examples of some institutions that offer free educational opportunities, pending admission and a variety of on-campus work programs.

The Princeton Review, which is not connected to its collegiate namesake, annually produces a list of the best collegiate values. Visiting the TPR website,, and navigating your way to the best value article is well worth it.

The lesson, here, is to recognize that substantial aid packages and wonderful college values exist all over the place. The key is doing your homework and not being deterred by some of the sticker prices out there.

You may not want a Mercedes. But don't feel you have to settle for a Yugo.

• Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment