When I speak to students about going to college, it is the four-year kind that most people think of first. Colleges or Universities are the place to go to get a four year degree…and many career paths require you to have that magical piece of paper to show for four years of hard work. After working with students for the past 7 years, I am going to share a few things I have learned about those four year degrees and places that offer them.
First of all, in America there are two distinctly different kinds of four year schools: Public and Private. Public schools are also known as “State” schools, because a portion of the tuition is paid for by that state. This sounds like good news…until you look around at the price of tuition. It isn’t nearly the huge bite out of your educational bill you might have been hoping for. In Oregon, it is about a 20% reduction, leaving tuition still expensive at all of our state schools. BUT…not all states pay 20%. Some states (those who have thriving oil industries, for example) pay MORE. If you live in an oil producing state, your state schools may be quite a bit more affordable.
Private colleges and universities are NOT given any tax payer assistance, and they typically have a much steeper tuition cost. That is the bad news. On the other hand, they have FAR deeper pockets, and fewer legal restrictions on what kinds of aid they can offer students. It is entirely possible that a financial aid package from a private school could make it the MORE cost effective option, even though the sticker price is so much higher.
If you are certain that a four year degree is your plan, then it is time to investigate four year schools. Each of them will be very different, so you need to be very thorough. Go to their websites. Go to their campuses if at all possible. Check both public and private schools. Ask LOTS of questions. Do you have to live in the dorm? Do you qualify for any of their scholarships? Do they teach the major you are seeking? What is their graduation rate? What is their average graduate earning? Compare the schools you are considering at: www.collegescorecard.ed.gov
If your search leads you to consider out of state schools, here is the bad news: Out of State tuition is typically 300% of in-state. Yes, you read that correctly. 300%. That is really bad news. BUT many schools offer scholarships to out of state students that can completely make up for that huge increase, so that an out of state school CAN actually be your smartest financial choice. The tuition in an oil-producing state may be so much lower that even with out-of-state rates, it could still be cheaper than in-state options. In the Western Undergraduate Exchange, many students from western states can go to an out of state school in the WUE for less than the usual 300% increase in tuition.
I am guessing that those of you who have been comparing the costs of various schools are feeling a little shell-shocked. Actually, probably a LOT shell-shocked. If a student is determined to go to medical school or become an architect, you WILL need to be looking at four year schools. If you are looking at college as the place you hope to figure out a direction, you might want to start at the community/junior college level…because it is SO much more affordable.
Now for the nitty gritty: You need to look into both Public and Private, both In-State and Out of state…because there is no way to guess who will make you the best financial aid offer. Each school has specific things they teach, each has specific scholarships they can offer, and there are always some who are better for those looking for merit scholarships versus those looking for aid based on financial need. Be willing to explore far and wide, because it may lead you to some amazing opportunities.
Many of the private colleges in our country use the Common App. This is a one time $50 fee, yet you are able to apply to over 700 different private schools. Explore those schools at: www.commonapp.org
(and then compare them using the collegescorecard.ed.gov site).
Another feature of four year schools: They all have different requirements for admission, and different deadlines to apply. Do you have everything they are asking for? It is okay to aim high and apply for a school that is tough to get into….but please don’t make it your ONLY option. Apply to SEVERAL, and decide to attend the one you can most easily afford. Sadly, the world of education has become very big business. They hire large teams to put together the coolest, brightest, most awesome publications, websites, commercials and Facebook pages. Those bright shiny pages are very alluring. They are very attractive. They can be very deceptive. Statistics say 60% of students will LEAVE their first-choice school. They will transfer to a different school, looking for whatever the bright shiny flier promised but failed to deliver.
I took my youngest up to his freshmen orientation a few years back. As he went to meet with an academic advisor, I chatted with a forlorn mother. Her daughter was back in their room, packing. She refused to attend the orientation, because after setting foot on campus for the first time, she realized she had no desire to attend that school. Her mother was very sad, since they did not have a plan B in place. I really want to encourage you even as you are looking at out of state schools, if you can, do that campus visit. Yes, it is a lot of money….but moving a student across the country to have them suddenly change their mind and pack for home would be worse.
Start hunting early, looking at all the information you can find about each school. Visit as many as you possibly can, because each school campus has it’s own distinct feel. Talk to their reps, and to students who are attending. Research schools to find out what scholarship help they may be able to offer. Have questions? Talk to their admissions office, or their financial aid office.
Remember, the purpose of attending a four year school is to get the magic piece of paper, so you can get that JOB. The paper is just that. A piece of paper. I am trying to convince students to chose to get theirs the cheapest way they possibly can. I want them to get the job they want, without so much student debt that they will be living in Mom’s basement for ten years trying to pay it off. Never mind if you like the school colors or they are your favorite football team. Shop wisely, my friends!
photo credit: Christian Fregnan on Unsplash