Planning for Future College Tuition Costs: Getting a Higher Education for Free?


If you have children or you yourself are planning on receiving a higher level of education at a university, then I’m sure you’re seeing dollar signs.

When I was in high school, the constant question was if I would attend a public or private institution and if it was in-state or out-of-state.  If I went to an in-state public school, it would be a lot cheaper than the in-state private school and the in-state private school would be cheaper than the out-of-state private school, primarily because of room & board.

Now with children, I constantly worry about saving enough money for their education.  If it’s $50,000 a year to attend a private university now (including room & board), how much will it be when my 5 and 2 year-old attend college?

Surprisingly, your child may be able to attend a top tier private university for FREE.   Depending on the institution, room and board may be included in the financial package.  And yes, your child maybe able to go to Harvard for almost nothing or free (well a little work-study, but that’s nothing).

Does it sound too good to be true?  Well, there’s an income criteria that must be met, but if you make over that income line, most of the universities go on a sliding scale. 

I have a breakdown of four top private institutions that offer an education for free (the tuition portion), so if your child can get accepted into the school and you don’t have the ability to pay the enormous tuition, he or she can still attend.

The Cooper Union – I didn’t know about this school until my friend who is uber-talented in the fine arts got accepted into the program. During the year she applied, it was harder to get into Cooper Union than Harvard.  The competition continues to be fierce with numerous applications and low acceptance rates.

The school is well known for its fine arts program, but what it’s really known for is that every student receives a full-tuition scholarship valued at over $140,000 as of 2010.  If your child excels in the arts and gains acceptance into the school,tuition is paid for regardless of how much you make or don’t make.  Student fees, room and board, books and supplies, and general living expenses, however, aren’t covered (if you are local, most of those extra fees will be cut and you can seek other financial grants, scholarships, etc.).


Harvard University – A private Ivy League university ranked #1 among National Universities in U.S. News & World Report (I don’t think there is a single person on this planet who isn’t familiar with Harvard).  A university known for its rich academic history and huge list of famous people including one of our founding fathers John Adams, our current president Barack Obama–and where social addiction Facebook was born.

I applied to Harvard and unsurprisingly I didn’t get in.  It’s a favorite among America’s elite society and with its strong alumni base, one of the toughest universities to get into.  However, if you can get in, guess what?  You can go to school, even if you don’t have the funds to pay for your education.  That’s right!

If your family makes less than $60,000 in combined income, your tuition plus room and board will be free.  They do have the students contribute by doing some summer work and term-time work, to help pay for the tuition–but that’s nothing. 

If they had this program back when I went to high school, I probably would’ve tried to get all As in my AP classes and even take extra preparatory classes for ACT and SAT.


Stanford University – Another elite university that is known all over the world.  Located in Palo Alto, it’s no surprise that its graduates went onto create Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Yahoo!, Google, Sun Microsystems (originally stood for Stanford University Network), Logitech and more (the list goes on and on). If you think “Silicon Valley,” you should think “Home of the Stanford Graduates.”

The school is consistently ranked in the top and was #5 among National Universities in U.S. News & World Report.  Like other top schools, the competition to get in is very high and the acceptance rate is low, 7.1% for 2011.  Like Harvard, if you can get in, everything is pretty much paid for if your family’s income is less than $45,000 (see the breakdown below).  They also have a work-study program in place so that the student can contribute toward the tuition.


Yale University – Another private Ivy League university that’s the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States.  Like the other schools listed, it’s known for it’s rich history and famous graduates including former presidents, Bill Clinton (he met Hillary Clinton there), George Bush Sr. and Jr., William Howard Taft, and Gerald Ford.

Yale also had a low acceptance rate of 7.4% in 2011.  It was ranked #3 among National Universities in U.S. News & World Report.  While tuition is very expensive at this elite school, if you can get in and your family makes less than $65,000, you pay nothing (see below from the school’s website).  Plus, they also have a sliding scale which makes it affordable for all income brackets.

If you are also contemplating between a private and public institution because of financial costs, then look at this interesting comparison breakdown I found on UPenn’s website.  Of course, it’s based on a family’s financial situation (like the other school’s I’ve discussed), but it’s worth looking at.

upenn comparison

While saving early for your child’s education is very important, you should also consider the different options you have.  If your child is accepted into any one of these elite institutions, but you don’t have the finances to cover the costs, then you know that these schools offer a full-tuition scholarship (some including room & board and other fees).  I’m not sure if this will remain the same when my kids go to school, but I surely do hope so.

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  1. ChuckG

    4 years ago

    Outstanding article SavingsMommie! My son went to community college, best in Cali (I think) and we could afford that. Then he went to State school and we could afford that. Books were horrendous in cost, though. He didn’t get to finish because of life’s twisted turns, but at least he has his liberal arts degree. He can always go back and finish out his minor in Nutrition and then get back to his old major. That’s what’s cool about college, it’s for everyone.

  2. SavingsIQ

    4 years ago

    great article! Didn’t know that you can go to these top private universities for free, provided you meet income requirements. Cooper Union sounds like a cool school. I never heard of it either.


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