Where The 1% Send Their Kids to College

The 1%. They’re the people on everyone’s lips these days, but if you were to pass one of their ilk on the street, you’d probably never know it. Despite what you may think of them, they don’t walk around with a cane and top hat looking for Grey Poupon. They’re 1.4 million regular folks who just happen to make more than $343,927 a year in adjusted gross income. The vast majority of them who have kids send them to college to ensure they get the best job they can, just like the rest of us.

Of course, the difference is that their range of options for college is practically limitless. The median household income in America is about $51,000, meaning $50,000 in tuition is not going to happen (without significant or full financial aid). But the 1% can afford the finest education for their kids that money can buy, and while these kids can end up anywhere from community colleges to Cornell, certain schools consistently attract the children of the wealthiest Americans. (Because schools don’t publish the incomes of students’ families, we’ve primarily had to go by children of people we know are millionaires: celebrities.)

The Ivy League

Yes, it comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that the rich send their kids to Ivy League schools. Probably parents that do so realize that the quality of the education will be extremely similar to that offered at colleges half the cost, but for connections made and the earning ability that comes with the degree’s prestige, see it as a sound investment. While all the Ivies enjoy high ratios of rich kids, a few consistently attract the heirs of millionaires and even billionaires.

  • Brown:Brown University in Rhode Island (RI) is like a giant exhibition hall of celebrity DNA. Dozens of wealthy luminaries who probably land in the top 1% of the 1% have had children come through its doors: Nicholson, Spielberg, Willis, Harrison, Versace, Forbes. Susan Sarandon’s daughter Eva attended, as did two of Diana Ross’ daughters. Politicians Jimmy Carter and billionaire John Kerry both had daughters attend. Brown has also been rated one of the richest colleges in America on the basis of the number of students awarded federal Pell Grants, an indicator of financial need. Just 10.9% received them in 2008-2009.
  • Penn:Gov. Jon Huntsman’s net worth is estimated to be as much as $71 million, and he had two daughters attend his alma mater University of Pennsylvania. Billionaire Donald Trump also graduated from Penn and found it good enough to send two of his kids there. Millionaire comedians Joan Rivers and Ray Romano have sent their offspring to Penn, as has Denzel Washington, with his son. This year it will cost about $57,000 to attend the school. Financial assistance is need-blind, but you have to wonder if seeing the name “Trump” on an application for financial aid wouldn’t earn it a “denied” stamp.
  • Yale:No doubt many famous, wealthy children pick Yale as their school because it’s where their parents went. Barbara Bush followed in the footsteps of both her father George W. and his father George H. W. by becoming a 2004 grad. Vanessa Kerry joined her father John Kerry as a Yale alum. From the Hollywood brand of millionaires, billionaire Steven Spielberg’s adopted son Theo recently graduated from Yale alongside Denzel Washington’s daughter Katia Elizabeth. As for Pell Grant recipients, Yale came in even lower than Brown at 8.9% receiving the loans.
  • Columbia:We have the statistical evidence that Columbia University of New York is a 1% stomping ground. Its now-$59,000 cost of attendance puts it out of the reach of most, but in 2010-2011, nearly 35% of freshmen did not apply for financial aid. For physical evidence, we know that multi-millionaire John McCain sent his daughter there, as did Al Gore and Neil Bush, brother of George and son of George. Even John Lennon’s kid did a stint there before dropping out. But anecdotally, we have Columbia’s rep for being a bunch of spoiled rich kids, based on this hilarious Craigslist ad and pretty much common knowledge.


  • George Washington University:At an attendance cost rapidly approaching $60,000, but only 65% of freshmen applying for financial aid (in 2010), George Washington obviously has some affluent students. It has long maintained a reputation as one of the most expensive schools in the nation, and unfortunately, one of the worst values for the money. However, the one-percenters who send their kids here seem to have no qualms with dropping a hundred grand here or there, judging by the cars GWU students drive. Unsurprisingly, four of the top five richest counties in America are in the D.C. area.
  • New York University:Another notoriously expensive school, NYU appeals to the children of the super-rich largely because some of the country’s richest people, their parents, already live in the Big Apple or nearby on the East Coast. George Soros, the 12th-richest man in the United States, has sent two kids to this school. Wealthy Oval Office occupants John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton also had children attend here. Its 14.8% rate of Pell recipients in 2008 made it the 33rd-richest school that year. Over 31% of freshmen requested no financial aid from the school in 2009, a year the school earned itself a major black eye for calling financially needy kids to warn them about the high price tag of enrolling.
  • Washington University:The rock-bottom 5.7% rate of Pell recipients at Washington University in 2008-2009 earned it the title of richest school in America, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Cost of attendance stands at $60,000+ today, but of the 64.4% of freshmen who applied for financial aid in 2010, only 60% were found by the school to have a financial need. In 2009, the school’s Students for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity conducted a survey of undergrads and found that more than 6% claimed their parents’ earned at least $500,000 a year, and another 13.8% said the figure was between $200,000 and $500,000. Although the survey was not super-scientific, it seems clear that Wash. U. kids come from money.
  • Duke:Many Duke University grads have gone on to become well-known, well-paid professionals, but not many send their kids there. Recently, NBA coach Doc Rivers’ son played ball there. Bruce Springsteen’s daughter attended, and a Canadian Prime Minister’s kid went to Duke. But the campus seems to be stocked with un-famous, run-of-the-mill one percent kids. A 2006 survey of students reported an average family income for white students of just under $230,000 during their senior years of high school. With a rate of about half the student body being white, we can safely assume there were a significant number of students who reported 1%-level incomes. In the Chronicle‘s richest university report five years later, they had Duke at number five based on its 8.3% Pell Grant recipient rate.