This article was originally written for, now a part of

When you think about “elite” colleges and universities—the Harvards, Yales, MITs of the world—you probably also think of their huge price tags. Harvard’s 2013-2014 cost of attendance is advertised as nearly $60,000 a year; University of California, Berkeley’s is over $33,000 for California residents. These costs often send students and parents into shock.

But what you may not know is that many of these expensive, elite schools have some of the best financial assistance programs for students from low- and moderate-income families.

  • Some offer full tuition scholarships for students under a certain income level.
  • Others have a debt-free policy so students don’t have to take out loans to pay for college.

Finding Affordable Elite Schools

You’re probably asking yourself, “well, that’s great, but how do I know which schools have these amazing financial aid packages?”

We did the search for you (using the NCES IPEDS database and the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid division data) looking for colleges and universities with acceptance rates under 25{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} (meaning that they accept only 25{53c6eff5ce19621f7316832cfedf08caab022021f1679c62c3f44b8900ceaf72} or less of the students who apply) and a net price (what you’ll actually pay with financial aid assistance) of less than $12,000 a year. Our list features 29 schools across the US and includes private and public institutions.

5 Surprising Discoveries in Our List

Of the 29 schools on our list, we found some pretty awesome information:

  • 12 of the schools offer 100 percent tuition aid for students with income under a designated amount.
  • Six of the schools offer debt-free financial aid packages, which means you won’t have any student loans to pay back! (See Harvard, Brown, Vanderbilt, Yale, Dartmouth and Cooper Union.)
  • Students may be able to attend an elite college or university for as little as $2,880 annually. (See Harvard.)
  • 18 of the schools offer starting net prices of $8,000 or less.
  • Schools with the lowest net prices often have the best outcomes for students: Nine out of the 10 schools with the lowest net price have graduation rates of 92 percent or higher and cohort default rates (the percent of students who are not able to pay back their student loans) of three percent or less.

Though these colleges in particular offer a sweet spot of affordability and a high quality of education, all of the elite schools on our list offer a good value in education for low-income and first-generation students. Check out the schools that made the cut! Click here.