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5 Ways a Public University Can Help You Save Money

Looking for ways to cut college costs? Public universities often come with the prestige of a private school at a reasonable price. Here's what to know.

As you narrow down the list of colleges to which you’ll apply, there’s a question you’ll face at some point: public or private? It’s an age-old debate and there’s no simple answer. Both public and private colleges and universities have their own unique pros and cons. But for many students, it comes down to money. Though financial aid and scholarships can help make private colleges more affordable, most public institutions are going to be inherently easier on your wallet. If you’re trying to decide which is right for you take a look at five of the top ways attending a public university can help you save money.

1. In-state tuition

If you attend a public university in your home state, you’ll pay in-state tuition, which is generally far less expensive than both out-of-state and private college tuition. Some state schools also have scholarships and grants specifically for residents, which can further reduce your costs. Out-of-state tuition can sometimes be twice or even three times as high as in-state tuition, but if you’re interested in a public university in another state, there are some tuition exchange programs through which you may be able to receive a reduced tuition rate. These agreements include the New England Regional Student Program, the Midwest Student Exchange Program, the Academic Common Market, and the Western Undergraduate Exchange.

2. Less need for private loans

If you’re applying for financial aid, the federal aid you receive may go farther at a public university. If your federal aid (combined with scholarship) doesn’t cover all of your costs at a private college, you may end up having to take out private loans, which usually come with a much higher interest rate than federal loans and will take you that much longer to pay off as a result.

Related: 6 Quick Ways to Maximize Financial Aid at Public Colleges

3. Prestige without the private price tag

If you think you need a diploma from a private college to impress future employers and colleagues, think again. There are many public universities that are just as, if not more, prestigious than their private counterparts at a fraction of the tuition. For example, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Pepperdine University are both very selective schools with positive and well-known reputations. But in-state tuition at UC Santa Barbara, a public college, is a little over $13,700, while tuition for all students at Pepperdine, a private university, is nearly $70,000. Of course, if you truly have your sights set on a particular private college, tuition alone shouldn’t nudge you toward forfeiting your dream, but it may be worth exploring some of the public universities where you could get an equally excellent education without breaking the bank.

4. The potential to live at home

Moving out and living on your own is probably one of the things about college you’re looking forward to most. But if you’re really looking for ways to save money and there’s a public university within driving distance of home, it’s worth considering spending at least a few semesters commuting. Provided your school doesn’t have a residency requirement (some schools require new students to live on campus), living at home for your first year or two of college could save you thousands of dollars. Or you could live on campus for the first couple of years to get the experience and live at home for the second half. Whatever works for you. Plus, you’ll be close enough to school to get in on all the campus activities you want and still be home in time for dinner!

5. Transfer later on

If you have your heart set on a private college but the cost of attendance feels overwhelming, you don’t have to give up on your dream. Starting out at a public university and transferring to a different school after a few semesters is an excellent way to save money without sacrificing your goals. Just be sure you’re aware of both schools’ transfer policies from the start, and do your best to take courses that are certain to transfer when the time comes.

Related: How You Can Save Money by Transferring Colleges

Are you weighing the pros and cons of public and private colleges and universities? Make sure you take all the important factors of a college before deciding—money, location, academic offerings, and more. Your final decision will look vastly different from someone else. Focus on yourself, your needs, and your goal while being open-minded to schools you may not have thought of before.

Find even more ways to save money on your college costs by checking out the blogs and articles in our Financial Aid section.

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