29 Elite Colleges You Can Actually Afford

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For many first-generation and low-income students, dreams of attending an elite college or university are just that: dreams. Students and their parents fear they won’t be accepted, or that even if they are, there’s no way they’ll ever be able to afford tuition. But the reality is that while elite schools are very selective in their admissions, once you’re in, they are often surprisingly affordable.

Finding Affordable Schools

Our list of elite schools highlights four-year colleges and universities that are both highly selective and affordable. Each admits 25 percent or fewer of students who apply, and offers an average net tuition price of $12,000 or less to students with incomes of $30,000 and below. They represent the best value in education for high-achieving students that come from a low-income background.

Understand the Numbers

These elite schools are ranked from lowest average net price for the lowest-income students to the highest net price for these students. While published tuition rates may be significantly higher, the net prices are what students can expect to pay after scholarships, grants and other awards. We’ve also listed important data including graduation rates and cohort default rates. These rates are important to understand: graduation rates indicate the number of students who actually receive a degree (the higher this percent, the better); default rates show how many former students are defaulting on (not paying back) their student loans (the lower this percent, the better).

Harvard University

www.harvard.edu | Cambridge, MA

Did you know? First-generation students can find support from the First Generation Harvard Alumni group, which offers mentoring and networking opportunities. Harvard provides generous financial aid packages that make it possible for 100 percent of students to graduate debt free, and 20 percent of Harvard families pay absolutely nothing to attend.

Lowest Average Net Price
$2,880

Average net price by family income:

  • $2,880$0-$30,000:
  • $3,647$30,001-$48,000:
  • $7,079$48,001-$75,000:
  • $11,639$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
77%
Graduation rate
97%
Cohort default rate
2.3%
Amherst College

www.amherst.edu | Amherst, MA

Did you know? Amherst College’s admissions approach is “high-need affirmative,” which means if all other factors are equal, the college will give preference to first-generation students from low-income backgrounds.

Lowest Average Net Price
$3,614

Average net price by family income:

  • $3,614$0-$30,000:
  • $6,248$30,001-$48,000:
  • $11,350$48,001-$75,000:
  • $16,818$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$60

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
71%
Graduation rate
95%
Cohort default rate
4.5%
Duke University

www.duke.edu | Durham, NC

Did you know? Duke University gives admission preference to first-generation college students. The university participates in the Say Yes to Education program, offering full tuition support to accepted Say Yes scholars with an annual family income of $75,000 or below.

Lowest Average Net Price
$3,813

Average net price by family income:

  • $3,813$0-$30,000:
  • $4,279$30,001-$48,000:
  • $8,162$48,001-$75,000:
  • $21,198$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$85

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
69%
Graduation rate
95%
Cohort default rate
1%
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

www.olin.edu | Needham, MA

Did you know? Olin College is committed to meeting full financial need, offering an $80,000 tuition scholarship for eight semesters of study to every student. More than half of Olin students qualify for additional need-based financial aid.

Lowest Average Net Price
$4,355

Average net price by family income:

  • $4,355$0-$30,000:
  • $6,444$30,001-$48,000:
  • $13,516$48,001-$75,000:
  • $19,870$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$80

Accepts fee waiver.

Percent receiving aid
100%
Graduation rate
94%
Cohort default rate
0%
Stanford University

www.stanford.edu | Stanford, CA

Did you know? First-generation students at Stanford University can find support for their unique needs from the Diversity and First Gen Office and the First Generation, Low Income Partnership (FLIP).

Lowest Average Net Price
$4,501

Average net price by family income:

  • $4,501$0-$30,000:
  • $6,895$30,001-$48,000:
  • $8,530$48,001-$75,000:
  • $16,652$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$90

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
71%
Graduation rate
95%
Cohort default rate
0.7%
Bowdoin College

www.bowdoin.edu | Brunswick, ME

Did you know? The Explore Bowdoin program encourages high-achieving students from diverse backgrounds to visit campus by covering the entire cost of the trip, including transportation and meals.

Lowest Average Net Price
$4,936

Average net price by family income:

  • $4,936$0-$30,000:
  • $8,400$30,001-$48,000:
  • $12,471$48,001-$75,000:
  • $17,241$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$60

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
48%
Graduation rate
95%
Cohort default rate
1.2%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

www.mit.edu | Cambridge, MA

Did you know? MIT’s First Generation Project is a network for first-generation students that provides opportunities for mentorship and community service, study breaks and more.

Lowest Average Net Price
$4,995

Average net price by family income:

  • $4,995$0-$30,000:
  • $4,448$30,001-$48,000:
  • $7,976$48,001-$75,000:
  • $19,409$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
85%
Graduation rate
93%
Cohort default rate
1.7%
Brown University

www.brown.edu | Providence, RI

Did you know? Students can join the Brown University First Generation College Student Group for academic and social support. Families with incomes of $60,000 or less require no parental contribution, and Brown has a no-loan policy for students whose family incomes are less than $100,000.

Lowest Average Net Price
$5,404

Average net price by family income:

  • $5,404$0-$30,000:
  • $8,841$30,001-$48,000:
  • $11,875$48,001-$75,000:
  • $21,716$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
61%
Graduation rate
95%
Cohort default rate
2%
Williams College

www.williams.edu | Williamstown, MA

Did you know? Williams College’s Dean of First Generation Initiatives engages first-generation students with “Lunch and Learn” sessions, a first-generation student advisory board and the Williams Firsts peer mentoring program. The college meets 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need, and low-income, first-generation and traditionally underrepresented students may qualify for an expenses-paid visit to campus through the Windows on Williams program.

Lowest Average Net Price
$6,186

Average net price by family income:

  • $6,186$0-$30,000:
  • $5,746$30,001-$48,000:
  • $14,885$48,001-$75,000:
  • $19,735$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
65%
Graduation rate
96%
Cohort default rate
2.6%
California Institute of Technology

www.caltech.edu | Pasadena, CA

Did you know? Low-income students may qualify for Cal Grant B, which offers assistance with tuition, fees and living costs.

Lowest Average Net Price
$6,444

Average net price by family income:

  • $6,444$0-$30,000:
  • $2,413$30,001-$48,000:
  • $8,479$48,001-$75,000:
  • $24,274$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$100

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
72%
Graduation rate
92%
Cohort default rate
3%
Vassar College

www.vassar.edu | Poughkeepsie, NY

Did you know? Vassar meets 100 percent of the demonstrated need of all admitted students, and eliminates or reduces loans in the financial aid packages of low-income families. Some families receive financial aid awards of more than $60,000 from Vassar.

Lowest Average Net Price
$6,595

Average net price by family income:

  • $6,595$0-$30,000:
  • $6,288$30,001-$48,000:
  • $11,152$48,001-$75,000:
  • $19,887$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$70

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
74%
Graduation rate
91%
Cohort default rate
0.9%
Washington University in St. Louis

www.wustl.edu | Saint Louis, MO

Did you know? Washington University in Saint Louis’ TRiO Student Support Services provide resources to first-generation and low-income students with advising, coaching, peer mentors and more. Students may also qualify for monetary assistance through TRiO.

Lowest Average Net Price
$6,614

Average net price by family income:

  • $6,614$0-$30,000:
  • $5,276$30,001-$48,000:
  • $12,415$48,001-$75,000:
  • $25,422$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
56%
Graduation rate
94%
Cohort default rate
2%
Rice University

www.rice.edu | Houston, TX

Did you know? The Rice Tuition Grant is given to students who have remaining financial need-based eligibility after all other awards.

Lowest Average Net Price
$6,841

Average net price by family income:

  • $6,841$0-$30,000:
  • $7,450$30,001-$48,000:
  • $10,537$48,001-$75,000:
  • $20,351$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
75%
Graduation rate
92%
Cohort default rate
2.9%
Haverford College

www.haverford.edu | Haverford, PA

Did you know? Haverford College’s Chesick Scholars program targets exceptional students from first-generation, under-resourced or underrepresented backgrounds. This program provides 15 scholars with intensive mentoring and support.

Lowest Average Net Price
$7,021

Average net price by family income:

  • $7,021$0-$30,000:
  • $7,303$30,001-$48,000:
  • $10,339$48,001-$75,000:
  • $27,107$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$60

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
51%
Graduation rate
93%
Cohort default rate
3.3%
Vanderbilt University

www.vanderbilt.edu | Nashville, TN

Did you know? Vanderbilt University meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, and financial aid awards do not include loans. The Opportunity Vanderbilt program includes only grant assistance and work-study packages for undergraduate students.

Lowest Average Net Price
$7,364

Average net price by family income:

  • $7,364$0-$30,000:
  • $6,784$30,001-$48,000:
  • $7,304$48,001-$75,000:
  • $14,726$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$50

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
66%
Graduation rate
92%
Cohort default rate
2.9%
University of Pennsylvania

www.upenn.edu | Philadelphia, PA

Did you know? The University of Pennsylvania’s Pennsylvania College Achievement Program supports academically talented students from low-income or first-generation backgrounds with coaching, academic support and assistance in meeting personal and educational goals.

Lowest Average Net Price
$7,578

Average net price by family income:

  • $7,578$0-$30,000:
  • $7,919$30,001-$48,000:
  • $13,698$48,001-$75,000:
  • $19,973$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
61%
Graduation rate
96%
Cohort default rate
1.6%
Wesleyan University

www.wesleyan.edu | Middletown, CT

Did you know? Wesleyan University’s First Generation College Student Coalition is a community of support for first-generation college students of all backgrounds.

Lowest Average Net Price
$7,755

Average net price by family income:

  • $7,755$0-$30,000:
  • $9,638$30,001-$48,000:
  • $17,071$48,001-$75,000:
  • $22,175$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$55

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
58%
Graduation rate
91%
Cohort default rate
1.8%
Yale University

www.yale.edu | New Haven, CT

Did you know? For families with less than $200,000 in annual income, Yale is one of the most affordable schools in America. The university meets 100 percent of demonstrated financial need without student loans, and families with incomes of $65,000 per year or less are not expected to make a financial contribution.

Lowest Average Net Price
$7,852

Average net price by family income:

  • $7,852$0-$30,000:
  • $8,071$30,001-$48,000:
  • $12,309$48,001-$75,000:
  • $17,147$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
62%
Graduation rate
96%
Cohort default rate
1.9%
University of California-Berkeley

www.berkeley.edu | Berkeley, CA

Did you know? The Educational Opportunity Program at Berkeley provides first-generation and low-income students with guidance and resources for success.

Lowest Average Net Price
$8,024

Average net price by family income:

  • $8,024$0-$30,000:
  • $9,835$30,001-$48,000:
  • $14,366$48,001-$75,000:
  • $21,223$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$60

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
62%
Graduation rate
91%
Cohort default rate
3.8%
Dartmouth College

www.dartmouth.edu | Hanover, NJ

Did you know? Several programs at Dartmouth, includin the Dartmouth College First Generation Network, are designed to support first-generation college students. Dartmouth eliminates tuition for undergraduate families with incomes below $75,000.

Lowest Average Net Price
$8,094

Average net price by family income:

  • $8,094$0-$30,000:
  • $7,407$30,001-$48,000:
  • $10,047$48,001-$75,000:
  • $20,474$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$80

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
54%
Graduation rate
96%
Cohort default rate
2.4%
Princeton University

www.princeton.edu | Princeton, NJ

Did you know? The Princeton First Generation Discussion and Support group provides a safe space where first-generation students can share their experiences.

Lowest Average Net Price
$8,322

Average net price by family income:

  • $8,322$0-$30,000:
  • $7,504$30,001-$48,000:
  • $11,646$48,001-$75,000:
  • $32,453$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$65

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
60%
Graduation rate
96%
Cohort default rate
2.7%
Middlebury College

www.middlebury.edu | Middlebury, VT

Did you know? Middlebury College has a need-blind admissions policy, and aid packages meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated financial need each year. Student loans in Middlebury’s financial aid package are offered at graduated levels depending on family income.

Lowest Average Net Price
$8,846

Average net price by family income:

  • $8,846$0-$30,000:
  • $8,342$30,001-$48,000:
  • $14,804$48,001-$75,000:
  • $22,425$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$65

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
43%
Graduation rate
94%
Cohort default rate
1.7%
Georgetown University

www.georgetown.edu | Washington, DC

Did you know? Georgetown University’s Community Scholars Program enrolls first-generation college students in a five-week summer academic program that includes courses, workshops and networking. Community Scholars are supported throughout their Georgetown experience with academic advising, mentoring, seminars and more.

Lowest Average Net Price
$9,122

Average net price by family income:

  • $9,122$0-$30,000:
  • $11,984$30,001-$48,000:
  • $15,639$48,001-$75,000:
  • $24,020$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$70

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
56%
Graduation rate
93%
Cohort default rate
1.3%
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

www.cooper.edu | New York, NY

Did you know? Cooper Union offers half-tuition scholarships to all accepted undergraduates, regardless of financial need.

Lowest Average Net Price
$9,597

Average net price by family income:

  • $9,597$0-$30,000:
  • $11,766$30,001-$48,000:
  • $12,037$48,001-$75,000:
  • $15,024$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$65

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
100%
Graduation rate
81%
Cohort default rate
8%
Cornell University

www.cornell.edu | Ithaca, NY

Did you know? Families with a total family income of less than $60,000 and total assets of less than $100,000 will have no parent contribution. Need-based loans offered in Cornell financial aid packages are capped based on family income.

Lowest Average Net Price
$9,980

Average net price by family income:

  • $9,980$0-$30,000:
  • $9,219$30,001-$48,000:
  • $13,355$48,001-$75,000:
  • $21,891$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$75

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
66%
Graduation rate
93%
Cohort default rate
2.2%
Harvey Mudd College

www.hmc.edu | Claremont, CA

Did you know? Through the Future Achievers of Science and Technology program, students from traditionally underrepresented populations can visit Harvey Mudd College for free and take part in lab demos, workshops and other activities. Participants are also granted an application fee waiver.

Lowest Average Net Price
$10,022

Average net price by family income:

  • $10,022$0-$30,000:
  • $16,405$30,001-$48,000:
  • $21,622$48,001-$75,000:
  • $23,840$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$70

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
76%
Graduation rate
88%
Cohort default rate
0%
Barnard College

www.barnard.edu | New York, NY

Did you know? Barnard College was ranked 5th among elite colleges with the highest enrollment of low-income students.

Lowest Average Net Price
$10,190

Average net price by family income:

  • $10,190$0-$30,000:
  • $14,961$30,001-$48,000:
  • $15,723$48,001-$75,000:
  • $26,680$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$65

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
57%
Graduation rate
90%
Cohort default rate
0.9%
Tufts University

www.tufts.edu | Medford, MA

Did you know? The Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program seeks to attract and retain first-generation students with high financial need. This six-week summer bridge program encourages students to get ahead in their math studies with classes and workshops.

Lowest Average Net Price
$10,742

Average net price by family income:

  • $10,742$0-$30,000:
  • $12,312$30,001-$48,000:
  • $18,567$48,001-$75,000:
  • $26,924$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$70

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
50%
Graduation rate
92%
Cohort default rate
1.4%
Swarthmore College

www.swarthmore.edu | Swarthmore, PA

Did you know? Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp was a first-generation college student, and hosts a yearly event for first-generation students.

Lowest Average Net Price
$10,793

Average net price by family income:

  • $10,793$0-$30,000:
  • $7,778$30,001-$48,000:
  • $11,496$48,001-$75,000:
  • $24,807$75,001-$110,000:
Application Fee
$60

Accepts fee waivers.

Percent receiving aid
62%
Graduation rate
92%
Cohort default rate
0.6%

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