Public vs. private
Families often assume that it will be cheaper for their child to go to a public college like one of the University of California campuses than to go to a private college. If your Expected Family Contribution is very high, this can be true. If you are of more modest means, however, private schools can sometimes be more affordable than public schools.
Many private schools offer better financial aid packages than do their public school counterparts. They often have the resources to include more grants and scholarships and fewer loans in their packages. As state funding is cut back, public schools are forced to offer more loans in their aid packages. As a result, the price you pay out of your pocket may be lower at a private school. Don’t knock those private schools off your list.
Compare graduation rates at the schools you’re considering. At many public schools, budget cutbacks have forced the elimination of some course sections. It has become a challenge for students to get into the classes they need in order to graduate in four years. That means they are paying for a fifth and sometimes a sixth year of college.
At most private schools, students are able to graduate in four years if they don’t slow themselves down by something like a late change of major. Four years at a private school could easily be cheaper than five or six years at a public school.
The Education Trust’s College Results Online website has useful search tools that let you view graduation rates:
The popular schools are harder and harder to get into. Put some less popular schools on your list.
By definition, popular schools have more applicants than less popular schools. They admit a lower percentage of applicants because they get more applicants. That helps move the school higher in college rankings, which brings even more applicants. They get even harder to get into.
Students are applying to many more colleges than in the past. The ease of online applications has been partly responsible for this trend. Students also apply to more colleges because they think it will increase their chances of getting in somewhere. It might, but it also might just contribute to the popularity of the schools.
Go ahead and apply to a few popular schools if they fit your goals. You may be the lucky student to be selected. You can up your chances of getting into a school where you will be happy, though, by also applying to some schools that admit a higher percentage of their applicants. Do your research and find the schools that are a good fit for you.
This advice also applies to your choice of UC campus applications. It used to be that if you didn’t get into any of the UC campuses you applied to, you would be offered a spot at another UC campus that still had openings. Most recently, that spot would be at UC Merced. This situation has changed. There are now so many applicants to all of the UC campuses, including UC Merced, that there are no open spots available sometimes. If you want to go to a UC campus, you should apply to a variety of campuses, including UC Merced. Don’t find yourself left without an offer.
The most highly selective privates schools don’t usually have merit aid. The next tier down in selectivity often do, and Lowell students shine at those schools.
Most private colleges use financial aid to bring economic diversity to their schools. The most highly selective schools tend to offer only this need-based financial aid. They usually don’t offer merit-based aid. They don’t need to. They have their pick of the most talented students in the world. Colleges in the next tier down in selectivity, however, will often offer some merit-based aid. It helps them attract to their campuses some of those very talented students who don’t qualify for need-based aid. Lowell students shine at these excellent colleges. Sometimes there are special applications for these scholarships. Ask the college representatives about them.
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