18 Oct

Public or Private Colleges: Which is a Better Value?

We’ve all heard of Harvard, Yale, Princeton–the “Ivy League” private schools reputed as offering unparalleled educational opportunities to their students. If you’re basing your college choices on name recognition alone, these colleges and universities are probably at the top of your list.  But what about their public counterparts, state schools like UCLA? Maybe the low cost of public schools attracts your eye, but the reputation of more expensive private schools has made you think twice.

Want to know how to choose the school that will get you the most “bang for your buck”? Read on.

Finding the True Cost

At first glance the difference between public and private schools seems obvious: public schools have lower tuition, so they must be less expensive… right?

Not necessarily.

Public schools do indeed have a lower “sticker price”–the projected cost before scholarships, grants, and other funding–but private schools are well aware of the price difference, and many of them try to make up for it. Most private colleges offer larger financial aid awards than do public schools. Some have promised financial aid even to the high income families. (Harvard for example announced a plan last year to offer aid to families making up to $180,000 per year.) Others offer students tuition discounts to help sweeten the deal.

The bottom line? With such generous aid offerings, a private school’s after-aid cost could be equal to or even less than public college tuition.

Weighing the Benefits

That said, price alone can’t determine the actual value of your child’s education. Both public and private schools can offer amazing courses, professors and experiences; but it is your child’s job (with some guidance from you) to determine which schools will be the best fit for him or her.

Your child’s college list should be based on more than prestigious names or statistics (I’ve written before about why you should not choose a college based on magazine rankings). The way for your family to determine the best value of a school is to consider your student’s overall needs and what type of college experience he or she is seeking, and then weighing it against the actual net cost of each college on your child’s list. (The net cost is the price after deducting the amount of financial aid offered.)

A private school may be a great match for one student, while a public might be perfect for another–but it is researching all the important details about each school that will really help your student make the right choice. To learn more, read about how to choose the right college for your student, and learn how that choice can lower your cost of college.

All the best,
Deborah Fox


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