The college search process and figuring out how to pay for it can be confusing and intimidating so it’s not surprising that many families don’t even know where to start. For most people, the obvious place to start is with their state public universities. The logic is simple, private schools are going to be more expensive than your public option unless you receive significant financial aid. Knowing how much your state public university costs gives you an idea of how much financial aid you would need to make a private college competitive financially.
However, money isn’t the only consideration when selecting a college. After all, if you want to be an engineer, there’s no point in going to a cheaper college if it doesn’t offer engineering. There may be reasons to pay more for a college based on its academic offerings, graduation rates, or post graduate opportunities.
Unfortunately, these factors aren’t as easily quantifiable as cost. Well, except for graduation rates. You should definitely look up four-year graduation rates when comparing colleges. A private college might be more affordable if it has a significantly higher graduation rate than your public university option. Remember, it’s not just the added cost taking a year longer to graduate but the loss of income because you aren’t working during that time.
Comparing academic programs is less clear cut. Obviously, if a program doesn’t exist at one school, then there isn’t any basis for comparison. But once you exclude majors such as engineering and health professions, things are a bit more murky.
For example, the majority of colleges do not offer finance as an undergraduate major. They do, however, have business or economic degrees. Are they comparable? Ask the investment bankers hiring undergraduates from Harvard which doesn’t have a finance or business major.
Now, you could argue that a degree from Harvard is actually more of an example of post graduate opportunities in terms of networking. We have now gone from murky to black hole black since there isn’t any data available to make comparisons on the value of networking. You’re stuck with reputation and you’ll have to decide how appropriate it is for your situation.
The point is that you can start exploring these issues once you start the process and you need to start somewhere. And that brings us back to your state public universities. A public university can serve as a useful yard stick to compare college affordability and opportunities, both public and private.
To help you get started, look up your state in the table below. It lists the public university in each state with the highest four-year graduation rate according the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). While it can’t do much in the way of measuring networking opportunities, it does provide real numbers to use for graduation rates and test scores which is a good place to start to compare colleges.
Public Universities with the Best Graduation Rates
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