Last Updated: Nov 12, 2014
As you narrow down the list of colleges to which you’ll apply, there’s one question that you’ll most likely 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 all comes down to money. Though financial aid and scholarships can help make private colleges more affordable, many, if not most, public institutions are going to be inherently easier on your wallet.
If you’re trying to decide whether a public or private school is right for you—and if college costs are a concern—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 tuition and private college tuition. Some state schools also have scholarships and grants specifically for state 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. Lessen your 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 any scholarships you’ve received) 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.
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—and best of all, you’ll end up paying a fraction of the tuition. For example, the University of California, Santa Barbara and Pepperdine University are both very selective, with UC Santa Barbara reporting an acceptance rate of 39% and Pepperdine reporting an acceptance rate of 37%. But in-state tuition at UC Santa Barbara is $12,192, while tuition for all students at Pepperdine is $46,440.
Of course, if you truly have your sights set on a particular private college, tuition alone shouldn’t nudge you toward forfeiting your dream (and it must be noted that 83% of students’ need is met at UC Santa Barbara and 80% of students’ need is met at Pepperdine). 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
Yes, yes, we know: 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 your parents’ house, it’s worth considering spending at least a few semesters at home. Provided that the school doesn’t have a residency requirement (some schools require students to live on campus), living at home for your first year or two of college could save you thousands of dollars. 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 Mom’s meatloaf!
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.
Are you weighing the pros and cons of public and private colleges and universities? What factors do you think will play into your final decision? Share your thoughts in the comments!