Colleges and universities cannot get by on tuition and fees alone. The most successful academic institutions have large endowments, investment portfolios that supplement the school's income. By returning value on those investments, endowments provide funding that—believe it or not—keeps tuitions lower than they otherwise would have to be.
The schools listed below sit at the crest of Endowment Mountain. They have a lot of money and relatively few students on whom to spend it. As a result, these schools can afford to be especially generous with regard to financial aid. If you can get in to any of these schools (at least as an undergraduate), you will almost certainly be able to afford to go, because financial aid money is insanely generous.
Our source for the data below is the National Association of College and University Business Officers 2018 Study of Endowments.
Princeton's total endowment isn't the highest; Harvard's is, by some 12.5 billion dollars. However, Princeton has only about one-third as many students as Harvard does. Consequently, Princeton boasts some $500,000 more in available funds per student.
Endowment: $25.92 billion
Total enrollment: 8,184
Endowment per student: $3,166,813
It's not much of a shocker that the top three schools on this list are in Ivy League. Yale's endowment is a somewhat larger than Princeton's but so is its enrollment. As a result, Yale clocks in at a very respectable second on this prestigious list.
Endowment: $29.35 billion
Total enrollment: 12,926
Endowment per student: $2,270,702
Harvard owns the most gargantuan endowment in the country. To put its total endowment of $38.3 billion in perspective, Harvard's endowment exceeds the gross domestic product of more than 100 nations. However, Harvard's enrollment is also the largest on this list— so it's only third in per-student endowment.
Endowment: $38.30 billion
Total enrollment: 20,970
Endowment per student: $1,826,580
At $26.46 billion, Stanford boasts the third-largest university endowment in the United States, trailing only Harvard and Yale. Healthcare services, sponsored research, and return on endowment investments provide the bulk of Stanford's massive portfolio. The school took in $1.1 billion in donations in fiscal 2019; it's nice to have successful graduates.
Endowment: $26.46 billion
Total enrollment: 16,472
Endowment per student: $1,606,661
MIT's endowment is the only one on the list below $20 billion, but it's smaller student body means that money can go further.
Endowment: $16.53 billion
Total enrollment: 11,276
Endowment per student: $1,465,895
In case you're wondering, the other schools with endowment-per-student ratios exceeding $1 million include:
If you want more information on financial aid opportunities, check out: How to Get More Financial Aid for College