Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

Continuing one’s education at a post-secondary institution is a huge financial investment. The cost of education has increased dramatically over the past decade. For many, it may very well be the largest they make in their lifetime. The National Center for Education Services stated that in the 2010-2011 academic year, the average in-state public university cost of attendance was $15,605 and the average private university cost of attendance was $31,974. (Cost of attendance is different than the sticker price tuition that a college or university advertises. It includes the average financial aid, food cost, travel fare, etc.).

Public universities versus private universities is the easiest example when determining the cost of education and the quality of your experience. But before one even attempts to compare different institutions of learning, one must have a priority list. One’s priority list should reflect the characteristics that one’s dream college would have, ranked in order of importance. Things to consider include offered majors, location, size, extracurriculars, community, the “feel”, and obviously price.

It might look something like this:

University of Super Awesome

  • Accounting Major
  • Offer minors in multiple language
  • Intramural Sports
  • Football Team with Yelling Fans
  • Greek Life
  • Close Proximity to Ice Cream Parlor
  • Doesn’t require excessive loans
  • Teachers

So back to the easy comparison:



More majors available

Variety of People

Very Inclusive

Huge Networking Possibilities

Student Services

(hospitals, pharmacies, etc.)


Better Financial Aid

Higher 4 Year Graduation Rate

Specific Type of Community

Smaller Class Size

Easier to enroll in desired classes

Average Housing is nicer

Above are some commonly known difference between public and private universities. At a public university you can meet more people and attend at a possibly lower price. The campus is very diverse, but you sacrifice intimate classroom settings and alumni support. But public versus private is not the only factor that should be taken into account when making the investment in education.The trade offs are endless with out specifics so lets look at a hypothetically situation.

Let’s say you find three colleges that all relatively fit your priority list, give or take that ice cream bar. College A cost $44,000 per year and is the best fit for your major. It has a great record with helping graduates find jobs after graduation and has that awesome football team you crave to paint your body for. College B costs $50,000 a year but it has everything. The teachers are awesome, your old friends go there, and the ice cream on campus is to die for. College C costs $40,000 a year. Your loans would be minimal but the academic program is weak in your interest area. There are multiple minors for foreign language and Greek life dominates campus. Intramural sports are abundant and you have already been asked to join someone’s squash team on the accepted page.

Decision time is around the corner and all your friends are sporting their colleges’ t’s (You’re slightly annoyed). You are totally clueless. From an investment standpoint, you should pick the school that has the most to offer in the long run. You could be the judge of that or you can base it purely off the financials. College A will almost guarantee you a job after graduating. College B offers the most to you in terms of the experience. College C is the most affordable and offers some good options.

For some, College C might seem like a clear choice due to the price, but it’s weak in your desired academia. That extra $10,000 a year to attend College B would make your college experience all that you have anticipated since the first time your friends came home and shared their college stories with you. But we cannot not forget about College A, with its career services. Although more expensive than College C, finding a job after college to pay off loans and start living (comfortably) can take awhile. The additional $4,000 for more support in school and after to find a job would ease the process of making that $16,000 (over for years) back. Attending College A also does not have all your priorities, like College B. But is that ice cream parlor  or (insert other ridiculous college priority here) really worth the $24,000 in the long run? Obviously the decision is yours to make, but focusing on the future can help make the decision seem a little clearer.

Colleges that offer career services and networking opportunities are not usually prioritized items but they should be when looking at your college decision as a financial investment. After you have have narrowed down the colleges with you desired major, location, size, extracurriculars, “feel”, etc., and received your financial aid packages, scholarships, and filled out your FAFSA’s, do not be hesitant to sacrifice a priority or two to go to a college that will literally pay off in the long run.

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