Nowadays, expensive private colleges and universities boast many attractive perks. Their price offers a sort of status symbol, some charging as much as $70,000 for full-time students. They place high in national rankings for everything from “best value” to “best undergraduate teaching," and some are blessed to be household names with unmatched reputations. Their status and resources speak for themselves, and many of them quickly became our dream schools.
In my case, I had applied early decision to an Ivy League university, assured by many that my grades and extracurriculars spoke for themselves. It was still a long shot. Even as an ED applicant, I was battling a 23 percent acceptance rate. Sure enough, I was denied and became part of the other 77 percent. I picked myself back up and put all my effort into my next round of applications. I anxiously awaited decisions from my two runner-up “dream schools." I was exhilarated to be accepted to one – let’s call it College C.
College C is a fantastic school, and I was ecstatic to be accepted…until I got my financial aid letter. It was as if everything had fallen into place perfectly with the lone exception of finances. My first year at College C was quoted at around $60,000, including need-based aid and federal loans. My small family and financially stable situation did not allow for much negotiation. With graduate school and its accompanying expenses only a few years down the road, College C was ruled out.
In many ways, I was back to square one, left to decide between six other schools to which I was accepted. One of them – Temple University, part of the state-affiliated Commonwealth system of Pennsylvania – had made me feel more valued than any other.
Admittedly, I had once been a state school skeptic, having convinced myself that I had simply worked too hard to settle for a less selective university. Here are six key reasons that high-achieving students in particular should never overlook the state-affiliated colleges they’ve been accepted to.
1. Dream Schools Are Great…Until You Talk Debt
Alright, so you’ve worked really hard to be accepted at a fancy school. Good for you, but depending how much need-based aid you qualify for, you are almost guaranteed some major debt. Remember that college is only four years of your life. An exquisite four years at that fancy private college isn’t going to make up for the next few decades you spend paying off student loans. Take some time to sit down and do the math. Reason with yourself. Attending a public university over a private one can eliminate years upon years of financial woes.
2. Almost All Have Honors Programs (Plus Perks!)
Many of the more selective private universities are not able to offer honors programs because…well, EVERYONE is a highly qualified student! This isn’t a problem if you are okay being a “little fish.” However, honors programs offer their members a tightly-knit community of students that can add some ease to the college transition. Some even have special dorms for honors students. Public colleges’ generally higher acceptance rates leave more room for these programs to exist. Some honors programs – like Temple’s – also offer research/study aboard stipends, something you may not be able to receive at many private institutions.
No matter what your high school counselors and teachers told you, private scholarships from companies and organizations are few and far between for most of us. Your success in winning them often rides on possessing overly-specific attributes and quite a bit of luck. Even worse, for students trying to cover the cost of a private college, getting a couple of $1,000 scholarships just isn’t going to make much difference. Need-based aid is always available from your private college, but what if you don’t qualify for much? This is where public colleges can save the day. Many want to attract high-achieving students, so they offer generous merit scholarships for those with outstanding academics. Luckily for me, Temple University offers scholarships up to full-tuition solely based on GPA and standardized test scores. College was suddenly more than affordable.
4. Size Has its Advantages
Many state colleges and universities tend to be larger schools. That being said, lots of great perks come with size. First of all, you will likely have a much larger selection of majors and academic programs than you would at a smaller, private institution. This also includes a larger number of faculty, allowing you more opportunities to network. Secondly, larger schools tend to have some really awesome facilities to accommodate their many students. For example, Temple's computer lab has over 700 computers, including macs, PCs, keyboard stations and recording stations. Lastly, a larger student body offers many more clubs and activities than smaller private schools. These schools' diversity also helps student life to flourish.
5. Graduate School
Are you going into medicine, law or post-secondary education? Congrats, you are aiming for some high-end careers! You are also looking at some serious – and essential – education beyond your four-year degree. You have a lot of hard work ahead of you, and the last thing you want is to finish your education with more student debt than you need. Other majors like psychology, education or business don’t require advanced degrees to get a job, but they definitely help since you are looking at some very popular and competitive fields.
6. If Nothing Else, You Can Stand Out
This was one of the most encouraging things brought to my attention during my grueling college decision process. As someone looking ahead to graduate school, I was going to face another four years of trying to build a killer resume. Yes, you could go to an Ivy and still make a name for yourself, but it’s going to be much more of a challenge. You are going up against a mob of other motivated, active and high-achieving students, most of whom are after similar opportunities. At a less selective university, standing out becomes much more possible. Certain leadership positions, research opportunities, and other honors can be set aside for elite students, and the competition is much less fierce.
Today, I'm quite proud of my decision to attend Temple University. As much as I had dreaded falling back on a state-affiliated school solely over finances, I came to love Temple for every other reason. I didn't visit campus until this past April, but that visit completely changed my perspective (so much so that I committed to the school six days afterwards!) The combination of the campus environment and the opportunities available for every type of student assured me I had found my future home. Money was one of the last things I was thinking about as I left Temple that day. However, knowing I could live at Temple affordably and study there for free sealed the deal. My college experience will be all the more fun without the financial concerns.
This past Monday during my high school graduation, it became clear to me that I haven't been alone in my reasoning to attend a state school. As our principal recognized our top ten academic performers (by GPA), he noted their major and college they will attend. I was surprised to learn (or...maybe not so surprised) that seven of the ten chose schools within the state university systems of Pennsylvania. Most of them being my friends, I know that many applied and were accepted to a private schools - some very selective and reputable - yet ultimately settled on their chosen state university. I think this says a lot about choosing a college. It dispels the myth in high school that "all the smart kids go to fancy private schools," because college really doesn't boil down to being a status symbol. It's about going to the right school with the best opportunities for you, and making an educated decision about your future.
State schools can be the answer for students of all ability levels and personalities. Never count yourself out of that group solely over an impressive big-name university.
Lead image credit: Eli Pousson on Flickr Creative Commons