State Schools Save Dollars, Make Sense


The WSJ says families are starting to worry about affording tuition, with high school seniors applying to less prestigious (read: cheaper) schools as back-up.


It’s time for a flashback.

In 1998, my senior year of high school, I applied to eight or nine schools, all with price tags of more than $20,000 a year in tuition alone, unbeknownst to my parents. I worked my butt off in school and refused to even consider the idea of attending state school. I would accept nothing short of Northwestern or Georgetown (since Harvard and Yale flat out rejected me).

At some point (thankfully early on in the application process) my dad requested to see a list of my college choices and wondered why I hadn’t included Penn State University (our state school). “Um because that’s where the C students go, Dad!” I quickly pointed out. “Who cares if it’s 75% cheaper? Who cares if they’re offering me a partial scholarship?”

My dad snapped me out of it with the help of equating a year at Northwestern to a brand new car (a car I never received, but that's another story). Sure enough, I ended up going to PSU. And you know what? I loved it. I dove into a school with 50,000 students, a partial scholarship, lots of resources and a vast alumni network. It was the smartest move, both socially and financially, that I could've made. It was a total bang for my buck and I graduated debt-free.

What’s my point in all of this? There’s no shame in going to a public, state school. It shouldn’t only be “Ivy League or Bust,” especially in this financial climate. You have to keep your options open. If you're determined to go to college there is a way to do it that won’t compromise your education or your bank account.

Don’t forget…

1. You can cut the cost of college up to 30% by living at home. Picking schools within a close radius to mom and dad can be a great way to save. It may cramp your style, but hey, you’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have $50,000 in student loans.

2. Some private schools are increasing financial aid so you don’t have to completely bail on your dream school. Call the financial aid offices at each school to learn the details. Cornell University, for example, just replaced its student loans with grants, according to the WSJ. And MIT and Dartmouth College don’t charge tuition for families earning less than $75K a year.

3. Students can save between high school and college. A student cited in the WSJ column plans to pay for Northwestern by working two after-school jobs as a middle-school tutor and a secretary at a local business.

4. Scholarships and grants are out there. and are two great Web sites for finding funding. Emily Hilleren, director of content at says the site provides free access to more than 2.7 million scholarships and grants worth over $19 billion.

5. You can always transfer. Starting out at a state school or community college for a year or two and then transferring to your preferred college or university can be a huge savings. Tuition and fees average $2400 this year at community colleges. Meanwhile, it costs $25,000 for private school and $6500 for a public school. And where you graduate from is what matters on your resume. No one has to know where you attended your first two years. recently compiled this list of most expensive colleges, including tuition, room and board.

Priciest Colleges for 2008-2009

1. Sarah Lawrence College | $53,166
2. George Washington University | $50,312
3. New York University | $50,182
4. Georgetown University | $49,689
5. Connecticut College | $49,385
6. Bates College | $49,350
7. Johns Hopkins University | $49,278
8. Skidmore College | $49,266
9. Scripps College | $49,236
10. Middlebury College | $49,210
11. Carnegie Mellon University | $49,200
12. Boston College | $49,020
13. Wesleyan University | $49,000
14. Colgate University | $48,900
15. Claremont McKenna College | $48,755
16. Vassar College | $48,675
17. Haverford College | $48,625
18. University of Chicago | $48,588
19. Union College (NY) | $48,552
20. Colby College | $48,520
21. Mount Holyoke College | $48,500
22. Tufts University | $48,470
23. Bard College at Simon’s Rock | $48,460
24. Franklin & Marshall College | $48,450
25. Bard College | $48,438

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.

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