Our History of Financial Aid | Harvard College

Opening Doors to Education

At Harvard College, bringing the most promising young scholars to campus for an educational experience that transforms them intellectually, socially and personally—no matter their backgrounds—is the core of our mission. Our need-based financial aid program ensures that Harvard remains within reach for every extraordinary student, and as such is an expression of our community’s most enduring values.

For almost as long as the College has existed, Harvard has provided financial aid to students. This tradition began with Anne Radcliffe, Lady Mowlson of London, who in 1643 left a bequest to aid students with need admitted to Harvard College.

Financial aid achieved its modern form in the 20th century. Harvard President James B. Conant, a former undergraduate scholarship student, created the first large financial aid initiative in 1934—the National Scholarship Plan—which helped open the gates not only to Harvard, but also to higher education more broadly. 

Today, more than half of families receive scholarship aid from Harvard, and families with incomes below $65,000 are not asked to pay anything towards the cost of a Harvard education. Every student shares in the financial responsibility for his or her education through term-time and summer earnings. Robust support for financial aid enables students to meet this obligation in a way that complements, rather than competes with, their academic responsibilities.

A Partnership Between Generations

Through financial aid, alumni and friends extend the transformational opportunity of a Harvard education to future scholars who are empowered to achieve their promise as individuals and leave Harvard ready to make a difference in the world.

2014 was a historic year for Harvard College. It marked the 10th anniversary of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, and on February 19, 2014, the University announced that Kenneth Griffin ’89 contributed over $125 million in support of financial aid—the largest gift in Harvard College history. In addition to supporting a cohort of 200 Griffin scholarship recipients, the gift provides matching funds through the Griffin Leadership Challenge Fund for Financial Aid to inspire other alumni and friends to create 600 new scholarships as part of The Harvard Campaign for Arts and Sciences. In recognition, the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid was renamed the Griffin Financial Aid Office, now headed by the Griffin Director of Financial Aid. This transformational investment will ensure the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative’s continued success for future generations of students.

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