This spring, high schoolers across the country will start receiving their college acceptance letters. Yet those looking to attend an Ivy League college or a top-tier liberal arts school might find themselves overwhelmed by the price tag.
Set off by inflation, the annual cost of a prestigious education is inching ever closer to the $90,000 mark, per Yahoo Finance.
Brown University, for instance, has projected a total cost of attendance of nearly $88,000 for the 2023-24 academic year, encompassing tuition, room and board, and indirect costs, such as books.
Similarly, at Cornell University, estimated costs for the upcoming academic year will exceed $87,000.
Costs associated with attending Harvard University fall between $82,950 and $87,450, according to the school’s projections.
This is nearly the same as the estimated costs to attend Middlebury College, a distinguished liberal arts college in Vermont, which amounts to $86,880 for the upcoming term.
These prices aren’t just limited to top-tier institutions in the Northeast, either.
Rice University, which is sometimes referred to as the Harvard of the South, will cost approximately $78,278 this year.
So where does that leave future university students and their parents?
The median household income in the United States was approximately $71,000 in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Thus, for most, the pressure is on to not only come up with the cash — perhaps through scholarships or financial aid — but also to make sure that the degree program sought out is worth it.
“If your parents can spend upwards of $80,000 a year, you better know what you are going for and get a degree that is going to do something,” Lainie Leber, a college consultant, told Yahoo Finance. “The prices just keep going up.”
It is worth mentioning that some Ivy League schools have substantial endowments meant to give access to students from low- and middle-income families.
Harvard, for instance, boasts $53 billion, allowing it to offer future students a sliding scale when assessing financial aid.
Yet how far these endowments — especially at institutions not as well-supported as Harvard — can stretch and who gets left out is another matter altogether.
Take, for instance, a post on a forum hosted by the website College Confidential.
The poster, under username Bioart, claims that he and his wife are struggling to justify the cost of their daughter’s education at the University of Notre Dame. Overall, he estimates that her undergraduate degree will cost them $348,000, with no need-based financial aid or merit scholarship awarded.
The user notes that while they can afford it, it will take a toll. Both he and his wife had been forced into early retirement by their employers and they haven’t been able to find new jobs.
“I now see why middle income families are underrepresented at these schools, and why they gravitate toward state flagships,” he wrote in the post.
The poster is not alone.
A recent poll from The Wall Street Journal and the National Opinion Research Center found that 56% of Americans don’t think a four-year college degree is worth the cost. This skepticism was found most among those aged 18 to 34.
Securing admission to Ivy League universities has also become more difficult.
With many schools opting out of asking students for SAT or ACT scores in light of the pandemic, the pool of applicants has risen but enrollment numbers have not.
Due to this intensified competition, the acceptance rates at many institutions have dropped. Harvard had a record number of applicants last year and logged the lowest rate of acceptance — 3.19% — since its founding, per The Harvard Crimson.
Yale, Rice, Brown, Tufts, and Columbia also reported record-low acceptance rates, per CBS News.
Still, as Evan McAnaney, a professor at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told CBS News, there are certain benefits to an Ivy League education, including “a complete insurance policy against downward mobility.”