These 10 “Expensive” Colleges Have Free College Tuition or Full-Ride Scholarships for Middle-Class Families

When many families think of college, they think “expensive”.

With rising price tags on many schools now easily exceeding $60,000 per year, it’s no wonder that many students and parents are worried about how they will possibly afford the cost of college.

If you’ve done your homework, then you will know that many colleges–especially the most expensive schools–offer significant discounts. What this means is that very few students pay the full “sticker” price listed on a school’s website. Instead, students pay their net price, which is often just a fraction of the full cost.

But, which schools offer the best deals for middle-class families and even give free college tuition offers?

Many colleges offer excellent financial aid, but some of the nation’s top universities actually have specific policies that guarantee middle-class families full-ride scholarships or essentially free college tuition based on their income.

Here are 10 schools that have published these excellent financial aid policies and are basically offering free college tuition:

1. Princeton University

Blaire Hall at Princeton University on a sunny day.

Source: Flickr user carbonnyc.

Tuition: $46,144

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (including tuition plus room & board) for families making $54,000 a year or less. Free tuition for families making less than $120,000 a year.

Our top-ranked college in terms of academics and outcomes, Princeton also offers a whole bunch of bang for the buck in terms of financial aid.

2. Brown University

Robinson Hall at Brown University.

Source: Flickr user dlthurston.

Tuition: $53,904

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $60,000 per year.

Another Ivy League college makes our list. Providence, Rhode Island’s Brown University offers generous aid and a top-tier education.


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3. Cornell University

Sage Hall at Cornell University shot at a low angle.

Source: Flickr user Robert Thompson.

Tuition: $52,853

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $60,000.

The Ivy League college with the highest acceptance rate (just over 10%), Cornell University is also dedicated to making quality education affordable and accessible for all kinds of students. Their financial aid policy mirrors many other colleges — they offer full-ride scholarships to students from middle and lower-middle-income families.

4. Columbia University

Butler Library at Columbia University lit up at night.

Source: Flickr user skinnylawyer.

Tuition: $55,581

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $60,000.

New York City’s Columbia University offers world-class studies in the heart of the Big Apple and an affordable price tag for many middle-class families.

5. Duke University

Duke University church building.

Source: Flickr user OZinOH.

Tuition: $53,701

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $60,000.

Duke is one of the country’s best research universities, known especially for their top-tier medical school.

But, they also boast strong financial aid that makes becoming a Blue Devil within reach for many families who may be originally scared off by the price tag.

6. Harvard University

Harvard University campus building during the day.

Source: Flickr user Niklas Tenhaef.

Tuition: $50,420

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $65,000.

Needing no introduction, Harvard’s reputation for academic excellence and prestige is nearly unmatched. But, many people are unaware that they also offer incredibly generous financial aid for middle-class families.

7. Yale University

Two students walking towards Yale University's gate.

Source: Flickr user Thomas Autumn.

Tuition: $51,400

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $65,000.

Another one of America’s top and most-respected universities, Yale, clocks in with strong scholarship opportunities for students lucky enough to be admitted.

8. Stanford University

Stanford University campus park.

Source: Flickr user ahockley.

Tuition: $48,987

Financial aid policy: Full-ride (free tuition, room & board) for families making less than $65,000. Free tuition for families making less than $125,000.

Right in the thick of the Silicon Valley tech market, Stanford boasts beach access, elite education, and financial aid that makes it all accessible and affordable for students from all walks of life.

9. MIT

Alchemist statue, by Jaume Plensa, at MIT Campus.

Source: Flickr user Aleksandr Zykov.

Tuition: $49,892

Financial aid policy: Families making less than $75,000 a year don’t pay tuition.

Known for all things technical, MIT’s financial aid department will foot the bill for students coming from middle-income families, leaving them only responsible for paying room & board and other living expenses.

10. Dartmouth College

Baker Tower and Library in Darmouth College.

Source: Flickr user sarunas_b.

Tuition: $53,049

Financial aid policy: Free tuition for families making less than $100,000.

Rounding out the collection of Ivy League schools on this list, Dartmouth boasts a policy that makes tuition free for any family that earns less than $100,000 per year. And, as with the other schools on this list, Dartmouth offers aid on a sliding scale for all other families.

Other college options

Finding financial aid for middle-class families can sometimes be a challenge. Luckily, these colleges have all published their specific financial aid rules to help families determine early if they will qualify for enough aid.

But, what about other colleges? Or, what about families that don’t quite meet the criteria that these colleges have set forth?

In those cases, the College Raptor can help by estimating the financial aid that you’ll receive from every college in the country–allowing you to easily compare costs and see which schools will fit your budget.

Graphic dollar bill.Discover which colleges are likely to offer you the best financial aid
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12 thoughts on “These 10 “Expensive” Colleges Have Free College Tuition or Full-Ride Scholarships for Middle-Class Families”

  1. Mary Roberts says:

    I have twin boys who are Juniors and will be graduating 2017 and trying to figure out how I am going to pay for their tuition times 2. We are a middle class family and looking to see if we can get assistance or free tuition. Need to start looking now if you can help us. Thank you

    1. George says:

      It will actually be cheaper (per child) if you have 2 kids in college at the same time instead of them having any gap time in between. Why? Because your EFC (Expected family contribution) is the same no matter how many kids are in college. Say your EFC is $30,000. If you have 2 kids in college then it is $30,000 ÷ 2 or $15,000 per student per year. So in 4 years you would pay $120,000. If your kids were 4 years apart then you would be paying $30 times 8 years = $240,000.
      Had I realized that earlier I would’ve had my kids 1 year apart instead of 5.

    2. Bob Hart says:

      We have two sets of twins 13 months apart so we will have 4 in at once over 5 years. Do you have any tips now that your twins are in college? Thanks…

  2. Ernie Johnson says:

    Does this apply to Humboldt State University?

  3. Polymorphic Polymath says:


    I’m a 23-year old high school graduate working 5-6 days a week in order to make ends meet while attending a local community college part-time to get my degree (slowly, but surely).

    Thank you so much for posting this list. Just to clarify, given that the applicant meets the low-income criteria, do all of these schools provide full-rides even if you apply as a transfer applicant? Is there an age criteria to qualify for full financial aid? What about test scores? Are they the same for both freshmen and transfer applicants? Would I rather apply as a freshman?

    Your input will be highly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

    Happy New Year!

    1. Allison Wignall says:

      Hello! Each school will likely have a different policy based on all the great questions you specified. As such, it would be important to get into contact with the schools you’re interested in to get more relevant, specific information regarding your personal circumstances. (Though your best chances are likely as a freshman non-transfer applicant). Good luck!

  4. bren says:

    Does this apply to students pursuing a Master’s degree?

  5. Jazz says:

    I am only 14 and Princeton has been my dream collage since 5th grade. After finding out I could get help on payment I was so relieved, because we are not a high or middle class so we don’t have all the money in the world to spare. Now all I have to do is get good grades so I can get accepted.

    1. Ms.Kumaran says:

      Same but I’m 13 and my dream college has been Harvard since I was 5

  6. Samriti Chopra says:

    Financial aid for my daughter in 2019 after she completes 12th in psychology undergrad in Ivy League University

  7. Pj says:

    Thank you so much for posting this . I am permanently disabled plus we have a severely disabled child . Our oldest daughter will graduate 2019 and I am terrified on how we can afford college. Our total in come for the family is 70k. Do schools take in consideration if one parent is disabled?

    Thank you and God Bless.

  8. Zac says:

    I am looking to use your college search feature already having an associates degree. Aiming for my Bachelor’s, the program assumed I don’t already have one and It makes it impossible to get real results. (Results that don’t assume I’m heading out of high school)

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