Is It Possible to Secure a Full-Ride Scholarship to an Ivy League School?

Many students dream of going to Ivy League schools. The steep costs that come with attending elite schools, however, end the dream right there. Luckily, a full-ride scholarship could make their wildest dreams come true.

Planning on applying to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton (HYP), but the cost is leaving you with cold sweats?

Here’s the deal.

Ivy League schools, just like most other prestigious institutions of higher education in the US, give scholarships. Because there is no need for them to attract students, all financial aid awards are need-based. Students who meet eligibility requirements can attend Ivy Leagues free of charge.

Here’s a breakdown of how much (or how little) your family should make annually in order to qualify for a full ride in each Ivy League school.

The Problem With Full-Ride Scholarships

Because it covers just about everything that you will need to pay to get your college degree, it can be very tempting to apply for a full-ride scholarship.

Having one is like going to college for free, even if the college is one of the Ivy Leagues which, as everyone knows, come with exorbitant sticker prices.

Unfortunately, besides making going to college easy on the pocket, there is one more important matter about a full-ride scholarship that you need to know about. It’s none other than the fact that it is so uncommon!

Well, finding it is easy because many schools offer it. What’s more, it can also come from the government and other sources. Sadly, it is a different story when it comes to getting it.

As a matter of fact, upon seeing the figures, you may wind up panicking and rethinking your college list all over again.

How rare are full-ride scholarships?

Full-ride scholarships are rare. Only 0.3% of full-time students enrolled at four-year colleges get it to pay for the entire cost of attendance (COA). Said students have full-ride scholarships through any combination of money from their schools, federal government and private sources.

Obviously, a full-ride scholarship is hard to come by. According to statistics, there were 16.6 million undergraduate students in the US attending college in 2018 (I’m sure the number has risen slightly since).

By doing the math, the truth that only ~49,800 of the students are able to go to college without shelling out money will surface. Saying that the chances of getting a full-ride scholarship are slim is an understatement. It’s harder than getting into the super elite and selective school itself.

But if your application gets approved, you and your family will experience the full pleasure of you getting a full-ride scholarship from an Ivy League school!

To give you a much better idea, below is a screenshot of the results I got from filling out some basic info.

I used Net Price calculator, which gives a rough estimate because it doesn’t go into too much detail. Remember, at best, the screenshot below is an estimate.

It breaks down the estimated cost of going to Harvard for one year if the student is from a family of four making $100,000 a year and has been awarded a need-based scholarship:

After receiving financial aid in the form of a need-based scholarship, the student/parents will only have to shell out $8,000 (out of pocket and work-study) in a year.

Harvard Net Price
Harvard Net Price

That’s just a small fraction of the overall cost of attending Harvard for an entire school year, which amounts to $80,563 — thanks to the $72,563 covered by the scholarship.

Also, the amount of a need-based scholarship can vary from income to income and school to school, as demonstrated in this article on different financial aids from Ivy Leagues and Little Ivies.

For more accurate results, I would recommend going onto the school’s financial aid page and using the financial aid calculator they provide.

Each school calculates aid differently, so make sure you plug in information for each school that interests you because the cost at one school could differ greatly from another.

Steps to Getting a Full-Ride Scholarship

There are different full-ride scholarships available from different sources. Some of them are geared toward certain types of students, too. There are full-ride scholarships for everyone, although not everybody will get them.

If you are planning on going to HYP, unfortunately, there is only one type of a full-ride scholarship that you could get. It’s none other than a need-based full-ride scholarship.

Every Ivy League school does not give any form of merit-based scholarships. The same is true with many other selective schools in the US, such as Caltech, Stanford, and MIT.

So, in other words, even if you discovered a definitive cure for COVID-19 or won more Olympic gold medals than Michael Phelps (he won a total of 23, which is the most number of gold medals ever won by an Olympian), going to Harvard won’t make you eligible for any type of scholarship based on merit.

The good news is that Ivy League schools are known to be generous when it comes to providing need-based scholarships, and that includes full-ride scholarships for students from low-income families.

In fact, Harvard, on its own admissions page, claims: “For families who earn between $65,000 and $150,000, the expected contribution is between zero and ten percent of your annual income.”

Besides not having enough money to attend a premier college, here are some other things that you need to have to be able to apply for and get a full-ride scholarship from Harvard, Princeton or Yale:

Important Documents to Submit

Besides the requirements mentioned above, it is also important that you submit a number of documents necessary for applying for a need-based full-ride scholarship to Princeton or any other school — Ivy League or otherwise.

You really need to make sure you stay on top of your organization for financial aid documents. Failure to provide all the documents you need could cause you to miss out on aid that could literally make a difference in which school you end up choosing.

Here is a list of the documents you will need when you begin your journey of applications such as the CSS profile and FAFSA for financial aid.

Different schools may have different requirements when it comes to applying for a full-ride scholarship. Make sure that you submit every single document that the school you wish to go to requires.

Related Article: What Makes Yale University Unique?

Qualifying for Full Ride Scholarship at Ivy Universities

Compare full-ride income qualification for Ivy League schools
Compare full-ride income qualification for Ivy League schools

Check the graph above.

I ordered Ivy colleges by income limit that your family should not exceed in order to qualify for a full-ride need based aid. As you can see, Columbia University is the most generous, and UPenn is the least.

Below are details for each school, including your chances to get in.

Brown University Dorms
Brown University Dorms

Brown University

Tuition and fees: $65,146 (not including room and board).

You can study at Brown University for free if the annual income of your family is less than $60,000 and has assets amounting to less than $100,000.

There are 6,577 undergraduates attending Brown full-time. Those who applied for financial aid amounted to 3,417. But the Ivy League gave awards to only 2,941 of all financial aid applicants.

How hard is it to get a scholarship to Brown University?

These numbers will tell you:

  • 44.72% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 86.07% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

The average amount of financial aid received by students who were eligible for it was $56,301.

With just a little over 86% of those who applied for financial aid receiving awards, Brown has the least number of financial aid awardees among all Ivy League schools. But it meets 100% of its students’ demonstrated need.

If you are wondering as to how to get a full-ride scholarship to Brown University, you will have to rely on third-party scholarships.

For instance, since Brown is a QuestBridge partner, you can get a full-ride scholarship for 4 years if the non-profit organization matches you to the top-tier institution.

columbia university

Columbia University

Tuition and fees: $65,524

You can study at Columbia University for free if your family makes less than $150,000 per year. Typically, the Ivy League awards more than $200 million in scholarships and grants annually.

At Columbia, the number of full-time undergraduate students amounts to 6,710. Of those, only 3,675 applied for financial aid. However, only 3,289 were determined by the school to actually have financial need.

Wondering how hard is it to get a scholarship to Columbia University? Just take a look at these figures:

  • 49.02% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 89.50% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

Students deemed eligible for financial aid received an average of $64,557.

Almost 90% of full-time undergraduate students at Columbia University who applied for financial aid were given cash awards, which makes it quite easy to get aid. The Ivy League meets 99.6% of the students’ demonstrated need.

How to get a full-ride scholarship to Columbia, you wish to ask?

Even though the school covers the entire demonstrated need of eligible students for 4 years, it’s still possible for some to enjoy a full-ride scholarship, which covers all or almost all college costs, by means of third-party scholarship providers.

McGraw Hall, Cornell University
McGraw Hall, Cornell University

Cornell University

Tuition and fees: $63,200

You can study at Cornell University for free if your family has an annual income of less than $60,000 and total assets of $100,000. The prestigious school says that, however, some may have to take out loans.

As of this writing, there are 14,691 full-time undergraduates at Cornell. Of those, 8,078 applied for financial aid. A total of 7,093 were determined by the Ivy League eligible for financial aid.

So, just how hard is it to get a scholarship to Cornell? The following figures will give you an idea:

  • 48.28% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 87.81% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

The average amount of financial aid eligible students received was $51,716.

Less than 90% of all those who applied for financial aid were deemed eligible by Cornell University. On average, 100% of the demonstrated need of students is met by the elite institution.

Thinking about how to get a full-ride scholarship to Cornell University? It’s possible for degree-seeking students at Cornell to get a full-ride scholarship through outside scholarships from partners.

One example is the Posse Scholars Program, which is open to high schoolers who demonstrate academic excellence and leadership skills.

Bell tower, Dartmouth College library
Bell tower, Dartmouth College library

Dartmouth College

Tuition and fees: $62,430

You can study at Dartmouth College for free if you are from a family whose annual income is below $125,000. The Ivy League covers the full tuition of students who meet this eligibility requirement.

There are 4,532 undergraduate students attending Dartmouth full-time. A total of 2,568 students applied for financial aid. However, only 2,250 of them were awarded any financial aid.

Wondering how hard is it to get a scholarship to Dartmouth College? Let these numbers tell you:

  • 49.65% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 87.62% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

Students who were eligible for financial aid received an average amount of $61,707.

While it’s true that applicants who applied for financial aid and proved to be eligible for it amounted to less than 90%, it’s still easy to get a scholarship at Dartmouth, which, by the way, meets 100% of a student’s demonstrated need.

Got how to get a full-ride scholarship to Dartmouth College on your mind? You can get one through a handful of ways.

For instance, since Dartmouth is a QuestBridge member, a college-bound teen who is matched to the Ivy League through it will receive a full-ride scholarship for 4 years.

Harvard University

Tuition and fees: $57,261

You can study at Harvard for free if the annual income of your family is less than $75,000 annually. On the other hand, students whose family makes more than $150,000 may still be eligible for financial aid.

Among all the 5,212 full-time undergraduate students at Harvard University, 3,439 applied for financial aid. Of those, 3,208 were awarded any financial aid.

So, how hard is it to get a scholarship to Harvard? Check out these figures:

  • 61.55% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 93.28% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

The average financial aid package received by each one amounted to $55,920.

With over 90% of applicants given an award, it’s really easy to get a scholarship to Harvard University. And according to the school itself, it meets 100% of the demonstrated need of its attendees.

Wondering how to get a full-ride scholarship to Harvard?

Well, while it’s possible for a student to get a full-ride scholarship to Harvard University via a third-party scholarship, the Ivy League itself does not offer full-ride scholarships.

But because the school meets all the demonstrated need of eligible students, many attend at no cost.

Princeton University
Princeton University

Princeton University

Tuition and fees: $57,410

You can study at Princeton for free if your family makes up to $100,000 per year. As a matter of fact, students whose annual family income amounts to as much as $300,000 may also be eligible to receive aid.

Of all the 5,236 full-time undergraduate students going to Princeton University, only 3,484 applied for financial aid. Those who were awarded financial aid amounted to 3,272.

Just how hard is it to get a scholarship to Princeton? Let these figures answer that:

  • 62.49% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 93.92% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

Each of the financial aid awardees received an average amount of $61,928.

Because over 90% of all financial aid applicants were awarded, getting a scholarship to Princeton University is easy for those who meet the requirements. Also, the Ivy League meets 100% of the demonstrated need of students.

When it comes to how to get a full-ride scholarship to Princeton, it’s important to note that the prestigious school is a QuestBridge member.

Low-income students who are matched to Princeton University by means of QuestBridge are awarded full-ride scholarships to the institution, which are good for 4 years.

UPenn

University of Pennsylvania

Tuition and fees: $63,452

You can study at the University of Pennsylvania for free if your family’s annual income is less than $65,500. On the other hand, those whose families make $65,500 to $140,000 per year may be eligible for free tuition.

Among the 9,774 students attending UPenn as full-time undergraduates, only 4,797 applied for financial aid. And of all applicants, those who received financial aid amounted to 4,392.

So, how hard is it to get a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania? Here are the numbers:

  • 44.94% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 91.56% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

Those who received financial aid awards got an average amount of 57,025.

Getting a scholarship to UPenn is easy for eligible students given the fact that over 90% of financial aid applicants were awarded. The Ivy League also meets 100% of the demonstrated need of its students.

In terms of how to get a full-ride scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, students from low-income families who are matched to it through QuestBridge receive a 4-year full-ride scholarship.

Yale University
Yale University

Yale University

Tuition and fees: $62,250

You can study at Yale University for free if the annual income of your family is below $75,000. Students whose families make more may qualify for financial aid, too, which is why they should fill out the FAFSA.

There are 6,531 full-time undergraduate students attending Yale. Only 3,785 of them applied for financial aid. Among those who applied for it, however, only 3,473 received financial aid.

Wondering how hard is it to get a scholarship to Yale University? Check out the figures:

  • 53.18% of all full-time undergraduate students received financial aid
  • 91.76% of all those who applied for financial aid were awarded financial aid

The average financial aid of those who were awarded it is $66,674.

Due to the fact that more than 90% of those who applied for financial aid received cash awards, it’s fairly easy to get a scholarship to Yale. If eligible, the school will also meet 100% of your demonstrated need.

When it comes to how to get a full-ride scholarship to Yale University, it’s possible to have one from a third-party provider of scholarships. Yale says that its most eligible scholarship award can amount to up to $70,000 per year.

Some Top Schools That Offer Merit Scholarships

UChicago

The UChicago stamps scholarship doesn’t cover all four years of college – only your junior and senior years. However, the scholarship does cover all expenses and gives you $20,000 to use for a variety of opportunities such as internships and research.

UChicago has a plethora of scholarships that aren’t necessarily full-ride or full-tuition, but do cover funding expenses for research and summer programs. You can check out those scholarships on UChicago’s website.

E. Bronson Ingram College at Vanderbilt University
E. Bronson Ingram College at Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt

I’m just going to throw it out there that I love Vanderbilt University. To this day, Vanderbilt ties with Northwestern for the best college visit experience. And on top of that, Vanderbilt is one of the only top schools that offers full-tuition based on merit.

The three main scholarships are the Ingram Scholars Program, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship, and the Chancellors Scholars program.

All three of these scholarships cover your tuition for all four years, and offer some kind of stipend to use in the summer for an “immersive experience,” as Vanderbilt calls it.

Some other merit-based scholarships (that aren’t necessarily full-tuition) that Vanderbilt offers are Carell Family Scholarship, Clarks Scholars Program, Maggie Craig Memorial Program, Curb Leadership Scholarship, and the Fred Russell–Grantland Rice Scholarship.

All of these scholarships have different criteria, so I suggest you check out this online pamphlet created by Vanderbilt about the specifics of each scholarship.

University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame also offers a stamps scholarship that covers full tuition and fees along with a $3,000 stipend per year.

Notre Dame also offers The Hesburgh Yusko Scholars Program that gives $25,000 per year for tuition and some money to complete summer programs. For more detailed info, here is Notre Dame’s own site that explains eligibility.

UCLA (University of California – Los Angeles)

UCLA also offers a Stamps Scholarship that pays for fours years of full-tuition, fees, and a $12,000 enrichment fund to use over the course of four years for enriching experiences.

Like other Stamps Scholarships, this one is really competitive with only 10 nominees each year – five Californian residents and five non-residents. And UCLA is a huge school that admitted over 15,000 applicants from a pool of close to 110,000.

UCLA also offers the UCLA Regents Scholarship, UCLA Alumni Scholarships, UCLA Achievement Scholarship (merit-based and need-based)

Duke University, Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

Duke University

Duke University has one scholarship that has an application, and that is the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program. It covers all four years of tuition, room & board, fees, etc. (basically a full-ride) and is offered exclusively to Duke and UNC Chapel Hill Students.

Other merit-based scholarships from Duke include:

UNC Chapel Hill

Aforementioned, UNC Chapel Hill does provide the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program that covers all expenses (basically a full-ride).

Since the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program is a scholarship not given by the university or the federal government (aka a private scholarship), there is a separate application you need to fill out to be considered.

Another private scholarship given by Chapel Hill is the Morehead-Cain scholarship that also covers your four years at the university.

Besides those two private scholarships, UNC Chapel Hill offers even more scholarships (non-private scholarships) than Duke that can be found here.

Chapel Hill says that to be considered for these non-private scholarships, you don’t need to fill out any additional applications – your FAFSA and CSS profile is all you need.

I would recommend to look into the specifics of each scholarships because some are awarded on the basis of need and merit, some solely based on merit, and some based on targeted merit (such as achievements in STEM).

Emory University

As I understand it, Emory University offers three scholarship programs under the Emory University Scholar Programs: Emory College Woodruff Scholars, Oxford College Woodruff Scholars, and Goizueta Scholars Program.

Within each of those programs, there are multiple scholarships specific to the program. For example, the Goizueta Scholars Program offers scholarships to exclusively to those who are pursuing a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) in the Goizueta Business School.

I’ve listed just a handle of incredible schools that offer merit-based aid. Before you dash your hopes of attending a top tier school because of the price, take a look at whether or not they offer merit-based scholarships.

Related Article: How Many People Get Into Harvard?


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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