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College at Stanford is now effectively free. So what’s your excuse?

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Last night at 1:30am, I received an email from Stanford, which read:

Tomorrow, Stanford will announce significant changes in its financial aid program that will make undergraduate education more affordable for families receiving aid. We want you, our alumni, to be among the first to hear this news.


Stanford University today announced the largest increase in its history for its financial aid program for undergraduates.

Under the new program, parents with incomes of less than $100,000 will no longer pay tuition. Parents with incomes of less than $60,000 will not be expected to pay tuition or contribute to the costs of room, board and other expenses.

The program also eliminates the need for student loans.

What a breathtaking move. By following in other top universities’ recent moves, Stanford and all of America’s top universities have effectively made themselves free for families without high incomes.

But what’s even more interesting is the fact that it removes yet another barrier for high-school students who wouldn’t apply to Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, etc. When I was in high school, the single-best deterrent to applying to a top university was not my friends’ actual financial situations. It was not their GPA or list of activities or their access to a computer.

It was just their conviction that they couldn’t get in.

Oh yes, they had dozens of reasons why they wouldn’t bother applying. “I couldn’t get in if I tried,” many of them said. Or the limited-resources fallacy: “They’d never take me because the other students applying are way more qualified than I am.” (It’s true that Stanford rejects enough valedictorians to fill its freshman class each year.) Perhaps most sadly, “I couldn’t afford it even if I got in,” they say, despite Stanford’s own website explaining that , “Financial aid was provided to about 77 percent of undergraduate students…in 2005-2006.” (I’m so fanatical about scholarships that I wrote up a guide to get over $100,000 in scholarships.)

And so the students who don’t apply select themselves out and, by definition, never have a chance.

Guess what?

This is about more than college admission.

The world is making it easier for people to excel. Blogs make it possible to get larger readerships than most national columnists. You can reach anyone with a single email. And the best education at the best universities is now nearly free.

I guess the question is, when all the barriers you’ve been holding on begin dwindling away, what do you do? Grasp around for another excuse? Or change and do something?

* * *

PS–I know many of you have younger brothers and sisters in high school. Please do me a favor and send them this post. The links in this post alone have enough information to get them thousands of dollars in scholarships.

[Update, 2/21: See an amazing response to this post here]

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  1. What University would you recommend for a part time MBA programme?
    I have seen, Stanford does not offer part time MBA. I am from Germany and want to add a MBA to my Bachelor degree. I have seen that Berkeley offers part time MBA. My specialization would be marketing.

  2. All I can say is WOW. That could have saved me a lot of money!

    I was accepted back in the day but could not afford to go…

  3. Enrique,Tallahassee,Florida Link to this comment

    Free tuition and board goes with our American values that even the poorest in our nation can make it if given the chance.

  4. does this apply for international students as well?

    to sebastian: my husband went to university of memphis MBA in marketing.

  5. I’m definitely telling my cousins about this. Some of them graduate next year. Thanks!

  6. This is a great move by Universities in the US. Back where I live, Asian country where population growth is faster, getting into a university can be an expensive affair.

    Government sponsored universities are affordable but there are quota along racial lines. The private run colleges with affiliation to universities in the US, UK or Australia cost quite a lot more.

    I look to the day when barrier education are lowered further here.

  7. One of my college classes was only going to accept 10 students to a ratio of 4 professors. So, they required a resume in addition to an interview, even though most professors knew each applying student already.

    I really wanted to be in that class, but I did not think I was near the level to acquire a spot.

    As it turns out, I ended up with one of the highest GPA’s that applied and a good resume/interview. I thought I would not get to work with this team. I applied and had under-estimated my ability (or their perception of it…)

    (Note: Some really smart kids simply didn’t apply for this class. See, I still under-estimate.)

    Point: Do not make false estimations of your worth.

  8. That’s really great news. Does Standford have any online degree programs? I’d love to get my bachelor’s degree, but can’t exactly uproot my family or leave my job to do it.

  9. I do love to hear about moves like this by universities, but I still think the problem lies with admissions requirements.

    I see SO many talented people who can’t get in to upper tier schools because they get sub par marks in high level math or literature or some other single area of study. As a matter of fact, I was one of those kids. Straight A’s in everything but math, regardless of how hard I worked. Because of this, I couldn’t get in to any of the schools I wanted to go to (Standford, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon are good examples). I ended up having to settle for a local college (Murray State University). What did the universities who rejected me miss out on? At age 21 I am now a published author having written a book that sold over 10,000 copies and am widely known as an expert in my field. Because of this I have brought quite a few accolades to MSU as a result of my success. I believe this happens all of the time. I shudder to think what I could have accomplished with an MIT education backing me.

    I guess in my venting what I am trying to say is that I don’t believe finances are nearly as a big of a problem as admissions criteria that are unjust. I couldn’t necessarily afford these schools out of my pocket (I’m the son of a Trucker and a Factory Worker), but I know that if I had gotten in to these schools then I would have FOUND a way to pay for it.

  10. What is more important to me is how the costs incurred by these students will be subsidized? Will they continue to raise tuition for everyone else? Will they seek private funding from alumni, thereby likely reducing the amount that other Stanford programs may rely on on a yearly basis?