How Tiered Tuition Works!

Our programs have three different tuition tiers: our “standard” rate is the full program cost; our “tuition assistance” rate is a “honors system” 17% discounted tuition; and our “scholarship” rate is an up to 85% discounted tuition.

When applying to a program, students do not need to indicate their tuition tier (unless they are applying in our “scholarship” tier, which requires some additional application components). Parents will select between the “standard” and “tuition assistance” rate when enrolling a student in the program. In other words, acceptance decisions for “tuition assistance” candidates are need-blind. We do still think it is best for students and parents to discuss the financial considerations of participating in a program prior to applying. This is particularly true for families that are applying in our “scholarship” tier, since parents will need to complete our Parent Statement of Financial Circumstances and submit a recent tax return.

Why Tiered Tuition

Sustainable Summer operates on a tiered tuition model. This structure is designed to make participation in a Sustainable Summer program accessible and affordable. Even higher earning families may face temporary financial setbacks or needs, such as loss of a job or multiple siblings in college. A tiered tuition model helps ensure families from across the economic spectrum are able to participate in a program. We’ve been using this model successfully for several years. Internal analysis indicates that there has been little to no “abuse” of the “no questions asked” discount we offer families. Some of the administrative strain of managing our financial aid program is reduced and families that need a bit of extra financial help to participate have one less application to worry about. This is a win-win scenario and we don’t know why more organizations in our field use a tiered tuition model.


This is our standard course fee, which represents the actual cost of operating our programs, including the administrative costs that are necessary to sustain our organization in the long-term.

This is the suggested rate for families living in high cost of living areas with household net assets of greater than $650,000 and/or annual household income of greater than $180,000. Note, this is a guideline based on the 90th percentile income and wealth distributions nationally for persons 45 – 55 years of age. Families below these amounts in low cost of living areas may have a greater ability to pay at the standard rate versus a household in, for example, the Bay Area or NYC earning $180K with two children in college. Please see the information on our tuition assistance rate and make the decision that is appropriate for your family.

Tuition Assistance

Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, in-country staff and transportation, and support for local projects.

Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families – no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.

When applying to a program, students do not need to indicate their tuition tier. All acceptance decisions are need-blind. Parents will select their tuition tier when enrolling a student in the program and the discounted tuition rate will be applied to their invoice.


Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the above rates. Scholarship participants receive up to an 85% reduction of the standard course fee. Due to the limited availability of scholarship funds, a separate application is required, including a parent financial statement and recent tax return.

IMPORTANT: Please see our scholarship information for detailed information before submitting an application to Sustainable Summer.

The Value of a Sustainable Summer Program

We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a commitment to socio-economic diversity in our student population. Our programs are primarily funded by participant tuition, with supplemental support from generous individual donors. We work incredibly hard to run great programs that use our funds as efficiently as possible. Approximately 83% of every dollar our organization receives goes towards our program costs. We are confident that you will not find a better value anywhere in the pre-college field.

A Philosophy of Mutual Trust

You are entrusting your son or daughter’s health, well-being, and education to us. In return, we are entrusting the financial health of our organization to our families. Our ability to continue to offer tiered tuition is contingent upon mutual trust between Sustainable Summer and our families. Some families will clearly fall in our standard tier or scholarship tier. For many, the delineation is much less clear as the total cost of participation pushes up against annual family budgets.

Like any educational opportunity, the program is an investment in the future, and we think students should work an after-school job, skip the daily Starbucks routine, and similar to help fund their participation. Likewise, we’re not asking parents to skip a mortgage payment, go into credit card debit, or stop saving for college and retirement, but if you’re thinking about our tuition assistance rate as an easy way to save a few hundred dollars towards a family trip to Disneyworld, you’re thinking about this the wrong way.

It is important to note that the true cost of participation is the standard tuition rate. Administrative staff salary and benefits, office expenses and utilities, insurance, student recruitment costs, training, equipment and supplies, legal and accounting fees, capital investments and bank fees, and other administrative costs are an essential part of our program operations. Participating at the tuition assistance rate does not cover any of these expenses – only the direct participation costs – and Sustainable Summer depends on a healthy percentage of standard rate participants (supplemented by our own fundraising activities) so that we can continue offering our programs to deserving young people for decades to come.