Is Attending an Ivy League University Worth The Financial Distress?

Beautiful woman holding diploma graduation

With the average yearly tuition cost of Ivy League schools reaching $60,000 a year, it begs an important question: Are Ivy League schools worth it?

There is no question that top-ranked universities look good on the resume. They also have state-of-the-art facilities, world-renowned faculty, and access to a wide range of academic and extracurricular programs.

Additionally, the distinction of attending an Ivy League school can open doors for graduates in terms of employment and networking opportunities. They also attract accomplished professors and highly experienced researchers from around the country.

But is the cost of tuition worth the benefits of attending a highly-ranked Ivy League school?

Let’s take a look.

Are Ivy League Schools Worth It?

Whether attending an Ivy League school is worth it is a difficult question to answer. Based purely on the numbers, top-ranked schools may not hold the same appeal they once had.

For instance, this 2014 Gallop study found that success is determined more heavily by what you do when you’re in college and not the college you attend.

The following year, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni published an influential book titled Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, arguing that degrees from prestigious universities are not required to get that corner office. Like the 2014 Gallup poll, Bruni emphasizes what students do while in college, like making friends and doing extracurricular activities.

It doesn’t stop here.

A Harvard Business Review study found that graduates from highly-ranked Ivy League colleges do earn more money, but only marginally. They found, “The overall performance [of graduates from highly-ranked universities] improved by only 1.9% for every 1,000 positions in the Webometrics global university rankings.”

Moreover, there's a good argument to be made that graduates of top universities have a better chance of success by default simply because they are smart enough to get admitted. A student gifted enough to attend a university like Princeton, MIT, Harvard, or Yale will likely be more successful due to their determination and grit, with or without the Ivy League diploma.

“Our data demonstrated that students at higher-ranked universities indeed score higher on general cognitive ability tests, have more international experience, better English proficiency, and higher cultural intelligence,” according to HBR.

However, HBR notes that these money-making traits among Ivy League graduates may have come long before the university education, not because of the university education.

More and more employers today are looking for applicants with skills and experience relevant to the job they're applying for, not necessarily an expensive education.

There are many benefits, however, of attending a top university.

Benefits of an Ivy League Education

Despite the fact that top universities can’t guarantee success, there are several key advantages of an Ivy League degree.

Advantage 1: Networking

Students of highly-ranked universities can network with other intelligent and determined students. Alumni networks at top colleges often lead to opportunities for higher starting salaries and other business opportunities one might not find at traditional universities.

Advantage 2: Money

The average salaries for top-ranked graduates are noticeably higher than for graduates of state schools and community colleges. For instance, the average salary of a Princeton Masters of Science graduate is a whopping $248,000.

Starting salaries are also higher. The average starting salary of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate is over $85,000. At Stanford, it's $81,000. Harvey Mudd College graduates can expect to earn over $90,000 right after graduation.

Advantage 3: Resources

Top universities often have resources that other universities don’t. For instance, Ivy League universities attract more accomplished professors and have access to unique and leading-edge studies and research materials. They also have job placement opportunities at top companies throughout the United States.

Advantage 4: Endowments

Ivy League schools have large endowments, which means they can provide generous financial aid packages to students in need. However, these aid packages are often highly competitive, making it difficult or unlikely to get without hard work and maybe some luck.

Whether attending a prestigious university is worth the cost or not is a personal question that depends on an individual's priorities, goals, and financial situation. For many, an Ivy League education's resources, opportunities, and prominence may be worth the steep tuition and competition.

For others, the financial burden and competitiveness of getting into a top school may not be worth the effort. While an Ivy League degree can open doors, it won’t guarantee success.

Ultimately, whether or not to attend an Ivy League school should be based on thoroughly considering the costs and benefits and understanding one's priorities and goals.

Author: Steve Adcock


Steve Adcock quit his job after achieving financial independence at 35 and writes about the habits millionaires use to build wealth and get into the best shape of their lives. As a regular contributor to The Ladders, CBS MarketWatch, and CNBC, Steve maintains a rare and exclusive voice as a career expert, consistently offering actionable counseling to thousands of readers who want to level up their lives, careers, and freedom. Steve lives in a 100% off-grid solar home in the middle of the Arizona desert and writes on his own website at