The biggest misperception we notice with our clients is the belief that their child is limited to certain schools because of cost. Parents will naturally assume that the state universities, with an obvious lower price tag, are much less expensive than the private universities. For in-state students the price difference of a state university is around half compared to a pricier private college. However, the price of a state university can vary from half to sometimes, the very same as a private college for out-of-state students. This factor is usually heavily weighted with many families and thus the list of prospective colleges becomes very limited. We see it all the time!
A fact worth noting is that those pricier private colleges give more money in grants and scholarships than the less expensive state universities. This can bring the cost of those private schools down to close if not lower than the state schools on your list. It is worth your time to speak to a professional to determine what grants or scholarships you will qualify for.
The major difference between public and private universities is how they are funded and this funding is tied to tuition prices. Most public universities were founded by state governments to give residents the opportunity to receive a public education. The real cost of attendance is subsidized by the influx of public money.
Private colleges, on the other hand, are funded through tuition, endowments and donations from alumni and friends. Without the funding from state legislatures, the tuition price is higher. However, many of these schools offer significant scholarships from their large endowments (both need and merit based).
One of my favorite websites to compare how much money these schools are giving in grants and scholarships vs. loans is www.cappex.com. Cappex shows the percentage of students receiving aid and how it is broken down. Try your own comparison and look at the percentage of students receiving institutional aid and how much is given. For example, Lehigh University has an estimated cost of attendance of just over $53,000. On average, 51% of their students receive $26,036 in institutional grants, aside from whatever federal grants or loans are given. Lehigh also offers merit scholarships chipping it down even more. Montclair State, for New Jersey residents, has a cost of attendance just over $23,000 and 12% of their students receive $6,472 in institutional grant money. 88% percent of students attending Montclair State are paying out of pocket or are relying on loans to cover the cost. University of Michigan, for out-of-state students, has an estimated cost of attendance just over $50,000. 47% of their students receive an average of $10,851 in institutional grants. At the very least, you can see how this levels the playing field for public and private universities. Pay no attention to the sticker price! Shop around and do your due diligence.
Most importantly, you want your student to have a good fit for whichever school they choose. Visit the schools and see my blog 10 Tips for College Visits. When you create the final list of prospective schools, make sure there is a good mix of state and private colleges. Compare award letters in the spring and chose the right college for your student without breaking the bank.