It’s Graduation Day. Seniors are walking down aisles with eager smiles. Amid the excitement, relief, and pride, however, some parents are worried about their pending financial future. Families with students admitted to highly selective private institutions that do not award merit-based aid (such as the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and several prestigious liberal arts colleges) will have to pay nearly full price. For some families, that means shelling out more than $40,000/year.
So in this economically uncertain environment, should today’s juniors and seniors reconsider investing in a private college education, especially if they do not qualify for financial aid or merit scholarships? Unfortunately, the answer is not simple.
A few reasons to pay for a private education
- You can attend the perfect school for you. Private colleges come in a variety of sizes and shapes. There are large private urban institutions (NYU, Boston University) as well as private colleges on small rural campuses (Bennington, Davidson). You can find a college with a unique academic philosophy (Hampshire, Colorado College) or one with a particular social inclination (single-sex and church-based colleges are private).
- Private colleges offer more attention and resources. In general, private colleges tend to maintain academic and career advisors, panels, and other helpful resources to ensure their students’ success. In addition, private colleges on average have higher graduation rates than their four-year public equivalents (take, for example, Harvard’s graduation rate) and, because their budgets are not constrained by state legislatures, private colleges are often better equipped to respond to the needs of faculty and students.
- Students who attend private college graduate faster. According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), students who attend private school are more likely to graduate in four years, regardless of income, race or ethnicity. On average, 79% of students who attend a private institution graduate in four years, compared to 49% at state universities.
A few reasons not to pay for a private education:
- Not all private schools are equal. Although you might assume that private colleges are academically stronger than public colleges, take a look at the reputation of all departments and programs within said institutions and how they compare to one another. Many public schools offer excellent programs or majors with reputations that may be stronger than that of the college overall.
- Take a look at the type of job you’re pursuing. To ensure a successful return on a college education, you must first examine the type of career that you are interested in. While there are certain professions where it does pay to pursue a private education, in other professions, compensation is not based on where you received your undergraduate degree. Union supported jobs, for example, usually base pay on experience, rather than where you got your education.
- Public colleges offer more flexibility. Public institutions allow part-time enrollment, offer a wider array of courses of study (take a look at a college catalog for a state flagship university), and allow students to live at home. So, if you are looking to take a non-traditional route, your needs will likely be best supported at a public institution, regardless of when you are ready to attend.
The differences between private and public colleges are more complicated than ratings and rankings may suggest, so take the time to examine what’s important to you in your college experience. Your IvyWise counselor can help you bring clarity to this process and, in the end, empower you with the tools necessary for finding the right college for you.