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Opportunity Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt has boldly replaced all need-based undergraduate student loans with scholarship and grant assistance.

New scholarship gifts are essential to sustaining this commitment. This initiative, called Opportunity Vanderbilt, is helping to ensure that young people of every background can attend Vanderbilt, creating a dynamic learning community that benefits every student. The university's decision to replace need-based loans with scholarship support gives talented Vanderbilt undergraduates opportunities to consider career choices and educational dreams without the prospect of significant debt. Generous donors have risen to the challenge, making gifts and pledges that have exceeded $250 million for undergraduate scholarship endowment.

There is still more to be done to support the full financial aid needs of our talented students. In scholarship endowment, Vanderbilt still ranks far below many of its peer institutions. About 64 percent of Vanderbilt undergraduates received financial aid last year. To secure the future of this program, we need to shift the costs of it from the operating budget to a larger endowment.

Working together through Opportunity Vanderbilt, we are strengthening and growing our undergraduate scholarship endowment, creating new opportunities for Vanderbilt today and for future generations of talented students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vanderbilt seeks to give highly talented students access to our distinctive undergraduate education, regardless of their socioeconomic status or ability to pay. Scholarships are essential to creating and sustaining the dynamic mix of students that contributes to the best possible living and learning environment for each and every student. Starting in fall 2009, the university eliminated need-based loans in financial aid packages, replacing them with grants and scholarships. To ensure the ongoing success of this endeavor, Vanderbilt must continually grow the scholarship endowment. Scholarship endowment allows Vanderbilt to continue its commitment to need-blind admissions and to provide greater opportunities for talented students who cannot afford the full cost to attend Vanderbilt. This will enable Vanderbilt to continue educating engaged local and global citizens and leaders and fuel Vanderbilt's ongoing advancement as one of the world's leading universities.

Opportunity Vanderbilt supports the university's commitment to replace need-based undergraduate student loans with grants and scholarships. To sustain this commitment over the long term, Vanderbilt must increase its scholarship endowment to ensure that tomorrow's talented students can achieve their dreams of a Vanderbilt education. While more than $200 million has been raised for undergraduate scholarship endowment since 2008, Vanderbilt is not yet at the level of many of its peer institutions. Scholarship gifts to Opportunity Vanderbilt will ensure Vanderbilt remains competitive in attracting highly capable young people whose families and backgrounds put them in the largest demographic of future students—those who will need some financial aid to attend Vanderbilt. And gifts for scholarship through Opportunity Vanderbilt are an investment in the belief that Vanderbilt has a vital role in educating the talented leaders, within a community of young men and women distinguished in achievement, eager to learn, and diverse in background, experience and perspective.
Substantial debt for new college graduates can limit their potential. The prospect of repaying student loans can lead some accepted students to decline their offer of admission from Vanderbilt, even when Vanderbilt was their first choice. Also, undergraduate students with significant loan debt will often abandon dreams of future studies in graduate or professional school, or forego particular career choices. The need to pay off need-based student loans can become a real barrier to a desire to teach, or practice medicine in an underserved community, or work in a nonprofit or service agency—among many other career choices. It is important to note that this initiative to replace need-based undergraduate loans does not make Vanderbilt cost-free. While Vanderbilt is replacing these loans with scholarships and grants in financial aid packages, there will continue to be an expected family contribution for most students. Some families will meet this contribution with loans. Likewise, some students may choose to take out loans to replace the work-study portion of their financial aid packages.
Gifts of any size can be directed toward support for scholarships and financial aid—and are greatly appreciated. To endow and name a specific scholarship fund, a gift or pledge of at least $100,000 is required. Other gifts of any amount can be directed to pooled funds that provide support for scholarships and financial aid. For questions about scholarship gifts, contact Randy Smith at (615) 343-4475 or
While gifts and pledges through Opportunity Vanderbilt are for undergraduate scholarships, Vanderbilt's need for scholarships certainly extends to students pursuing graduate and professional studies in its schools and colleges, as well as students in the Divinity School, the Vanderbilt Law School, the Owen Graduate School of Management, and the School of Medicine and School of Nursing. To learn more about supporting scholarships for students at Vanderbilt's graduate and professional schools, contact Randy Smith at (615) 343-4475 or

As with all endowment gifts, the annual endowment payout (currently 4.5 percent) on a scholarship gift provides student support. The gift's principal remains in the endowment, so it can continue to benefit students for generations to come. The chart below provides a general outline of the number of students who are generally supported by endowed scholarship gifts at different levels, based on students' financial need.

Gift Level Description

Estimated Annual
Endowment Payout

$ 100,000 Helps support 1 scholar each year $ 4,000 to $ 4,500
$ 300,000 Helps support 1-2 scholars each year $12,500 to $15,000
$ 600,000 Helps support 1-3 scholars each year $25,000 to $30,000
$1,000,000 Helps support 1-5 scholars each year $40,000 to $45,000
Gifts and pledges to support scholarships through Opportunity Vanderbilt are invested in the university's endowment. Vanderbilt's endowment is a permanent fund made up of gifts to the university that are pooled and invested together. In accordance with the university's spending guidelines, 4.5 percent of the endowment's average market value for the prior three years is distributed for the purposes designated by each donor. Investment goals are formulated to earn returns over the long term that meet or exceed amounts distributed plus inflation; therefore, a gift to Opportunity Vanderbilt is expected to constantly renew and rejuvenate itself in perpetuity. The generosity of today's donors has a positive impact on the university—not only for this generation, but for decades to come.

For questions and additional information:

For questions, contact Scott Self at (615) 322-6200 or