Elite Colleges That You Can Actually Afford (2023)

Every year, high school students and their parents pore over the rankings of colleges across the country while building their college lists. Sites like Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and Niche use massive amounts of data to rank colleges in a variety of categories.

While each ranking system is different and has its own set of criteria, most people have little understanding of what goes into the rankings. We simply see these rankings and take what they say at face value. These rankings have taken precedence, so much so that some parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars to get their children into highly ranked colleges illegally.

But these rankings often fail to look at how to obtain a degree at a reasonable price. Students are drawn into the ranking systems, but need to ensure that they are looking at the ranks that will help them succeed in the future, regardless of the name-recognition and apparent prestige of the university.

America’s Affordable Elite Colleges

One ranking system, from Washington Monthly, ranks four-year schools based on three different categories: research, social mobility, and providing opportunities for public service. To compile the data for “America’s Affordable Elite Colleges" they took 208 of the most selective colleges and ranked them based on the degree to which they recruit and graduate students from middle and lower income families, the net price they charge those students, and the students' future earnings. The goal was to help students understand the financial commitment they are making and how it might affect their future.

According to Washington Monthly, here are the top ten elite colleges that you can actually afford:

1. CUNY Baruch College (NY)


How Much Should You Borrow For A College Degree?ByCamilo Maldonadocontributor
Student Loan Limits: How Much Can You Borrow?ByDori Zinncontributor
(Video) why are rich people obsessed with getting into elite colleges?
  • First-gen students: 49%
  • Median earnings: $57,188
  • Predicted median earnings: $61,422
  • Net price of attendance: $4,128

2. University of California - Davis (CA)

  • First-gen students: 38%
  • Median earnings: $58,469
  • Predicted median earnings: $56,949
  • Net price of attendance: $11,361

3. Stanford University (CA)

(Video) Top 10 Colleges That Are ACTUALLY Worth It

  • First-gen students: 25%
  • Median earnings: $91,782
  • Predicted median earnings: $74,710
  • Net price of attendance: $2,800

4. University of California - Los Angeles (CA)

  • First-gen students: 35%
  • Median earnings: $61,385
  • Predicted median earnings: $62,510
  • Net price of attendance: $9389

5. Washington and Lee University (VA)

  • First-gen students: N/A
  • Median earnings: $76,011
  • Predicted median earnings: $58,014
  • Net price of attendance: $3,841

6. University of Florida (FL)

  • First-gen students: 30%
  • Median earnings: $54,609
  • Predicted median earnings: $53,973
  • Net price of attendance: $7,461

7. College of the Holy Cross (MA)

  • First-gen students: 16%
  • Median earnings: $68,358
  • Predicted median earnings: $56,087
  • Net price of attendance: $13,546

8. Harvard University (MA)

  • First-gen students: 22%
  • Median earnings: $94,579
  • Predicted median earnings: $72,994
  • Net price of attendance: $4,137

9. University of California - San Diego (CA)

  • First-gen students: 37%
  • Median earnings: $60,673
  • Predicted median earnings: $66,496
  • Net price of attendance: $10,226

10. Georgetown University (DC)

  • First-gen students: 14%
  • Median earnings: $90,491
  • Predicted median earnings: $66,807
  • Net price of attendance: $10,560

Why This Ranking Matters

Every year, students who have near-perfect SAT or ACT scores, rank at the top of their class and have an impressive resume of extracurricular achievements get into Ivy League schools and other top-tier universities. However, they are then faced with a tough decision, as that acceptance letter also comes with a hefty price tag. By examining what the net price of the school will be, as well as the predicted earnings, it shows students the financial commitment they are making when they choose a school and major.

(Video) Are Elite Colleges Worth It? Do Prestigious Universities Increase Your Earnings?

Here are a few things students should consider before applying to a particular college:

  • Look at the major and future earning potential. According to a PayScale’s 2019-2020 College Salary Report, the majors that had the highest earning potential tended to be STEM majors, with engineering, accounting, and aerospace studies topping the list. On the other hand, arts and humanities majors tend to earn less initially, with social work, early childhood special education, and human services ranking at the bottom of PayScale’s list. But, over time, many humanities fields tend to catch up with their professional peers.
  • What types of financial aid is offered. When I tell parents that the Ivy League schools only offer need-based aid and no merit-based scholarships, they are often surprised. That means they do not offer athletic or academic scholarships. The reason Ivy League schools do not offer merit-based scholarships is that they believe that their students are all academically exemplary, and therefore only provide need-based scholarships.

Name-Recognition Vs. Affordability

Take two colleges: Sarah Lawrence, a liberal arts college in New York City. With a beautiful campus and national name recognition, it's the type of university that many people think of when they imagine the stereotypical college experience.

The second college: Baruch College, a branch of the City University of New York system. It has no traditional campus, and roughly 50% of its students are in the first generation of their family to attend college. Unless you live down the street from it, you likely have never heard of Baruch.

What might surprise you is how alike these two schools are in their academic qualifications. The average SAT score of Sarah Lawrence's freshman is 1240-1410, and at Baruch, it is 1190 – 1350. Baruch has an acceptance rate of 39%, and Sarah Lawrence is at 56%.

While just looking at the numbers, it might seem like both schools are an equally good choice, with Sarah Lawrence holding the advantage due to its overall reputation and rankings. But where Baruch takes the competitive edge is in the costs.

For the average household making less than $75,000 a year, it costs just $4,128 a year to attend Baruch. For Sarah Lawrence, it would set you back $24,682.

Even though there are many factors we can judge a potential school on, we tend to fall back on ideas like prestige and name recognition.

The Rankings Are Here To Stay

(Video) 10 Degrees You Should Study If You Want To Be Rich

Perhaps the real reason we have become obsessed with rankings stems back to the 1980s, when two major events occurred: the federal funding cuts proposed by Ronald Reagan and the launching of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings in 1983.

The federal cuts by Reagan had a bigger impact than perhaps initially anticipated. By the end of the 1980s, the federal portion of education funding had decreased from 12% to 6%. More state cuts were also inflicted upon colleges and universities, and suddenly, they needed a way to raise more money.

During this period, U.S. News and World Report began to rank colleges, which was the first time universities were judged under set standards and metrics. Currently, U.S. News and World Report ranks more than 1800 universities, from commuter schools to prestigious universities.

The U.S. News and World Report rankings, as well as other similar sites, helped the American people understand the numerous college options out there, and how they ranked in relation to one another. As millions of dollars were cut from student assistance programs and Pell Grants, tuition costs began to escalate. This, in turn, caused parents and students to start to reconsider college costs and justify the considerable expenses. They wanted to make sure that their degree was worth the investment, and one of the best ways to ensure that was to go to a highly-ranked, reputable school.

Can The Rankings Be Manipulated?

Students who rely heavily on the ranking sites need to take to look at the full picture of how the rankings are formed. Unfortunately, universities understand the unhealthy obsession students have at looking at the lists, and therefore the rank matters significantly to the institutions as well. Gaining the prestige of a top-ranked school has caused some to send in false data, change aspects of the institution or use other tactics to increase their rankings.

What can be so troubling about the college rankings and the stock we put in them is how easy it is for colleges to manipulate that data. For example, one metric that many ranking sites use measures selectivity as a way to show the school’s desirability and prestige. The goal of many universities is now to encourage more people to apply, therefore increasing the applicant pool and decreasing the acceptance rate. Schools like Princeton (5.5% for the class of 2022), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (6.7% for the class of 2023), and Brown University (6.6% for the class of 2023) have all seen their admission rates plummet in recent years.

Another crucial ranking metric that can be tinkered with is the average test scores and GPAs of incoming freshmen. For example, the U.S. News and World Report weights the standardized scores at 7.75% of the total ranking. Some universities have found a way around these metrics. These schools, like Northeastern University, will specifically tell the international applicants not to submit their SAT and ACT data.

U.S. News and World Report will penalize universities that either fail to submit all scores received from students or misrepresent the information. However, if the school doesn’t collect that data in the first place, there is nothing to report to U.S. News and World Report. For schools like Northeastern, which accepts 11% of its freshman class from international applications, this means a significant portion of its student body's scores haven’t been factored into the average that was sent to U.S. News and World Report.

(Video) Top 5 Schools the ACC Can't Afford to Lose | UNC | Miami | FSU | Clemson | UVA

The right college for you doesn’t necessarily have to be the most selective or prestigious. We have been conditioned to believe that those institutions with admittance rates in the single digits are the best ones to attend. However, before taking out a loan, you should do more research than just checking the college ranking sites. Explore colleges that you can actually afford, so you can receive a quality education, graduate with minimal debt and have a successful career.


What colleges are similar to Sarah Lawrence? ›

Does anyone actually pay full price for college? ›

Students are more likely to pay full price at public colleges, Ivy League colleges and the most selective colleges. Students are less likely to pay full price at southern colleges, small colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and less selective colleges.

Is going to an elite college worth the cost? ›

There's no real evidence to suggest that elite schools provide any better level of education than 'normal' private or even some public schools,” said Faisal Nasim, director at Exam Papers Plus “In fact, most research suggests that attending schools with a more mixed group (which elite schools most certainly are not) ...

What does 100 demonstrated need mean? ›

In other words, the total cost of attendance minus your expected family contribution equals your demonstrated financial need. At colleges that meet 100% of need, your financial aid package will cover the entirety of your demonstrated need.

What counts as an elite college? ›

In our distinctions, "elite" refers to the approximately 75 schools with the most restrictive admissions criteria. These colleges generally accept fewer than 30 percent of all applicants and have a highly selective reputation to match.

Is Sarah Lawrence worth it? ›

Although Sarah Lawrence is quite pricey (yes, in fact it is the most expensive college in the United States) it is most definitely worth the price. The personal contact with professors, premiere faculty, small class sizes, inspiring student body, location, and unique education is priceless.

Can you ask colleges for money? ›

Yes, financial aid is negotiable. “There is very little downside to asking, so you might as well make the request,” says Shannon Vasconcelos, a college finance educator at College Coach.

Do parents actually pay for college? ›

Are parents legally obligated to pay for college? State law rules that the obligation to financially support your kids ends when the child turns 18. That means parents have no legal obligation to pay for their child's college education — with one exception.

Do colleges accept you if you have money? ›

The majority of colleges and universities in the US practice need-blind admissions. This means they will not take your financial need into consideration when making an admission decision. They will not look at your ability to pay neither will they consider your potential need for financial aid.

Do elite colleges pay off? ›

It's no surprise that earnings for students who attend elite universities look good: There's a big payoff for completing a degree — and completion rates are very high at selective colleges.

What is a good GPA at an elite college? ›

However, for college applicants, the average GPA is more likely between 3.5 and 4.0. If you're aiming for a top university such as one in the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, or others of the same caliber, a 4.0 GPA — or close to it — is expected.

Why do people go to elite colleges? ›

Elite colleges can help secure amazing opportunities including access to awesome professors, inspiring classmates, top-notch facilities, and highly respected degrees. But elite colleges are also typically very selective, extremely rigorous, and quite expensive.

What college is most generous with financial aid? ›

1. Columbia University in New York City. As stated on its site, Columbia University meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need of its first-year and transfer students. Parents of families who have a combined income of less than $60,000 aren't expected to contribute to the cost of attendance.

Is Penn State 100% need met? ›

Penn is committed to meeting 100% of your demonstrated need with grant-based aid. That's right—that means it's possible to graduate from Penn debt-free.

Does FAFSA give full rides? ›

The financial aid awarded based on the FAFSA can be used to pay for the college's full cost of attendance, which includes tuition and fees. While it is possible for student financial aid to cover full tuition, in practice it will fall short.

How many AP classes are in elite colleges? ›

To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor. There are no colleges out there that require you to take 14, 17, or some other obscene number of Advanced Placement offerings.

Are Ivy League students elite? ›

​The answer lies in the specific nature of Ivy League elitism, which is an aristocracy of networks. Ivy League graduates make up 0.4 percent of the country. They are significantly overrepresented in Fortune 500 C-suites, in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, in academia, and in the media.

Is UCLA an elite school? ›

UCLA is considered a member of the Public Ivy, an association of prestigious public schools providing a college experience comparable to Ivy League schools.

What is the acceptance rate for NYU? ›

New York University admissions is most selective with an acceptance rate of 13%. Half the applicants admitted to NYU have an SAT score between 1450 and 1570 or an ACT score of 32 and 35.

What is Vassar college known for? ›

Consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country, Vassar continues to be renowned for pioneering achievements in education, and for the beauty of its campus in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Did Jordan Peele go to Sarah Lawrence? ›

Peele was born on February 21, 1979, in New York City and raised by a single mother on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He graduated from the Calhoun School and attended Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. He dropped out of college after two years to pursue comedy.

What to do when college is too expensive? ›

39 Ways You Can Cut The Cost Of College
  1. Set a realistic baseline for your college choice, then shoot for the moon.
  2. Consider community college.
  3. Live off-campus after your first year.
  4. Embrace minimalism.
  5. See if you can pay for your dorm monthly.
  6. Build your own loft bed.
  7. Cook your own food.
  8. Hack your meal plan.
Nov 16, 2021

How does anyone afford to go to college? ›

Most undergrads have help from parents to pay for college. Many also receive grants, borrow student loans, or work part time. Find out how the average student covers the cost.

How do I convince colleges to give me more money? ›

If it's a needs-based appeal, contact the financial aid office to ask for more aid. If it's a merit-based appeal, contact the enrollment or admissions office. Explain that you want to initiate a Professional Judgement Review (or Special Circumstances Review, as some schools call it).

How do middle class families pay for college? ›

Students and families who do not qualify for Federal Pell Grants and Institutional need-based aid have several different options including scholarships, Federal Work Study, Federal loans for students, Federal loans for parents, private educational loans, and family savings and out-of-pocket payments, including payment ...

What if my parents refuse to pay for college? ›

If your parents or guardians refuse to pay for college, your best options may be to file the FAFSA as an independent. Independent filers are not required to include information about their parents' income or assets. As a result, your EFC will be very low and you will probably get a generous financial aid offer.

How many kids pay for their own college? ›

Report: 67% of college students fully paying for their own education - University Business.

What will make colleges not accept you? ›

Here are seven common reasons why college applications get rejected, according to some experts:
  • Failure to meet high GPA or test score standards.
  • Insufficient academic rigor.
  • Lack of demonstrated interest.
  • Application essay errors.
  • Poor fit.
  • Academic integrity concerns.
  • Competition.
Sep 13, 2022

Can I get into Harvard without extracurriculars? ›

There is no formula for gaining admission to Harvard. Academic accomplishment in high school is important, but the Admissions Committee also considers many other criteria, such as community involvement, leadership and distinction in extracurricular activities, and personal qualities and character.

Can you pay your way into Harvard? ›

Concerned about the cost of college? Let's cut to the chase: you can afford Harvard. Our application process is entirely need-blind, which means that applying for financial aid will have no impact on your admissions decision.

How many elite colleges should I apply to? ›

Every year, prospective college students wonder, "How many colleges should I apply to?" As a general rule of thumb, some admissions experts recommend submitting applications to 4-12 schools.

Can you be successful without elite college? ›

Students (and their parents) often feel that they must choose the most prestigious college possible. But data demonstrates that you don't need to enroll in a big-name college to be successful in life. A student's field of study matters more than the college name.

Does attending an elite college matter? ›

The fact is students who attend elite universities have higher earning potential than their peers who graduate from less selective institutions.

What is the lowest GPA to get into the Ivy League? ›

None of the Ivy League schools have a minimum GPA requirement for applications, which means anyone can apply regardless of their GPA.

What is the lowest GPA to get into Harvard? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application. We'll cover those details next.

What is the lowest GPA accepted at Harvard? ›

To get to Harvard your GPA has to be at least a 4.0 and even then if you get in your lucky but they require at least a 4.18 GPA only .

Do top colleges actually matter? ›

While it's difficult to prove that going to an elite college makes you successful, there's a strong relationship between attending an elite school and being successful. On average, graduates from elite schools make more money, and degrees from many elite schools provide the best return on your college investment.

Are there real schools like elite? ›

Las Encinas is fictional—but those scenes are shot at a real campus. According to El Pais, the exteriors of Las Encinas are shot at European University of Madrid, in Villaviciosa de Odón, a municipality about 10 miles away from Madrid's center. This content is imported from instagram.

Are elite universities losing their competitive edge? ›

Despite the loss in local spillovers, elite universities still enjoy an edge in average productivity because of agglomeration of top researchers in prestigious institutions with high long-term research reputations.

What salary is too high for financial aid? ›

There is no set income limit for eligibility to qualify for financial aid through. You'll need to fill out the FAFSA every year to see what you qualify for at your college. It's important to make sure you fill out the FAFSA as quickly as possible once it opens on October 1st for the following school year.

What GPA is too low for financial aid? ›

To be eligible for federal student aid and college financial aid, a student must be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). This generally consists of maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale (i.e., at least a C average) and passing enough classes with progress toward a degree.

How do you get a full ride to an Ivy League school? ›

As mentioned, Ivy League schools do not provide full-ride scholarships – Harvard is no exception. Harvard takes a need-blind approach in their admissions process. This means that financial need does not factor into your acceptance.

What is the hardest Penn State to get into? ›

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, of the 61 colleges or universities in Pennsylvania with available data, University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia, ranks as the hardest school to get into.

What GPA does Penn State want? ›

Penn State does not have a minimum GPA or standardized test score used for admission. There are no such things as “cut-offs.”

How much is fafsa full grant? ›

How much money can I get? Amounts can change yearly. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $7,395 for the 2023–24 award year (July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024). your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

What GPA will get me a full ride? ›

A 4.0 Grade Point Average is not only a high GPA, it's an impressive GPA that's sure to catch the eyes of many scholarship providers. Since the minimum GPA for a full-ride scholarship is usually set at 3.5, a 4.0 is sure to always be above and beyond what's required.

Can I ask a college for a full ride? ›

Although awards that cover your tuition and all expenses are highly-competitive, it's possible to get a full-ride scholarship if you excel in academics, sports, or leadership, and can demonstrate this excellence effectively in your application.

Would FAFSA cover my full dorming costs? ›

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) says that you can use these dollars to pay for the cost of attending an institution of higher education, which includes room and board, including off-campus housing.

Is Sarah Lawrence a prestigious school? ›

Sarah Lawrence College is ranked #72 out of 210 National Liberal Arts Colleges. Schools are ranked according to their performance across a set of widely accepted indicators of excellence.

What major is Sarah Lawrence College known for? ›

The most popular majors at Sarah Lawrence College include: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities.

What kind of school is Sarah Lawrence College? ›

Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, residential, coeducational liberal arts college.

What is the average GPA to get into Sarah Lawrence? ›

We require a GPA of 3.0. We look closely at the transcript and personal statement to see if there were extenuating circumstances that led to a lower GPA.

What school has the most celebrities? ›

New York University proudly takes first place with nearly twice as many famous alumni as any other school: 12 Grammy Award winners, 25 Tony Award Winners, and (drumroll, please) 38 Academy Award winners.

What is the average GPA and SAT for Sarah Lawrence? ›

The average GPA at Sarah Lawrence College is 3.68. This makes Sarah Lawrence College Strongly Competitive for GPAs.

How hard is Sarah Lawrence to get into? ›

Sarah Lawrence College admissions is more selective with an acceptance rate of 57% and an early acceptance rate of 69.4%.

What is Sarah Lawrence College ranked on the Princeton Review? ›

The Princeton Review's annual Best 385 Colleges Guide continues to recognize Sarah Lawrence College as a leader in undergraduate liberal arts education and classroom experience, naming it #1 for “Professors Get High Marks” and #4 in “Best Classroom Experience.”

What movie mentions Sarah Lawrence College? ›

In the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, a quasi-adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, high school senior Kat Stratford desperately wants to attend Sarah Lawrence College.

Is Sarah Lawrence a conservative school? ›

If you are a liberal, communist, socialist, atheist, queer, or anarchist, you'll find a group of likeminded people here--Sarah Lawrence is a liberal haven, but there are a fair number of conservatives. The population tends to come from SLC's reputation as a hippie-arts school, as well as its proximity to New York City.

How much do Sarah Lawrence College professors make? ›

The estimated total pay for a Professor at Sarah Lawrence College is $84,343 per year.

How much do professors at Sarah Lawrence College make? ›

The average salary for faculties is $87,922 and $78,261 for all non-instructional staffs.
Instructional Staffs (Faculties)
YearHeadcountSalary Outlays
2021-202292 +3 (3.37%)$8,088,796 -$105,003 (-1.28%)
7 more rows

What's an Ivy school? ›

Ivy League refers to the eight elite research universities that make up the Ivy League conference – Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell. These eight schools are known for academic excellence and high selectivity in their admissions.

What was Drake's GPA? ›

The average GPA at Drake University is 3.68. This makes Drake University Strongly Competitive for GPAs.

What is the lowest GPA someone has ever gotten into college with? ›

What is the lowest GPA ever recorded? 0.0 on a 4.0 scale is the lowest GPA record. They student got Fs in all their classes.

What is the average GPA to NYU? ›

Average GPA: 3.69

The average GPA at NYU is 3.69. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 3.69, NYU requires you to be above average in your high school class. You'll need at least a mix of A's and B's, with more A's than B's.


1. Cheapest Universities in the UK with HIGH ROI || Top UK Universities with low Tuition
(Yash Mittra - YMGrad)
2. Why Elite Colleges REJECTED So Many Seniors in 2021
3. 5 Ways Rich Kids Get Into Elite Colleges
4. Elite Universities: One of the biggest scams in modern day
(John Park)
5. Average Salary by University | Top 10 Highest Payed Alumni!
(9 Month College Grad - Ryan Swayt)
(Ada Canada)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated: 08/11/2023

Views: 6584

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.