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The age old questions: is money more important than education “quality”? Can I get the same education at a cheaper, state school versus a prestigious university?

The answers that you will get vary significantly. There are the sage, done-and-experienced adults (mostly parents) who write hundreds of op-eds on why expensive universities are simply not worth it. Then there are the high school seniors themselves, some of which discard full scholarships to state schools and opt for the expensive, highly ranked schools and some of which choose the full scholarship. Don’t expect a “right” answer coming from these people’s experiences and opinion. At best, it’s advice for your life decision and at worse, it’s reassurance that someone has made the decision that you are erring on.

The main points that I’ve gleaned from those I’ve talked to, personal experience, and some good ole’ googling is that more prestigious universities tend to have a higher “caliber” of students and more resources. That being said, many state schools have smaller honors programs that essentially function as a mini Ivy League with many more opportunities open and available to their students. College is mostly about grasping for opportunities, and when those opportunities are directly laid in front of you, it gets quite easier to move forward and succeed.

However, many of the articles stating that state schools can get you to the same place as a highly prestigious one are likely stretching it. The fact is you will never come across someone who has been able to live their undergraduate experience twice, once at a state school and once at a ranked school with the same life experiences prior. Higher ranked universities naturally have a sort of self confidence built in to many of its students and prides themselves on their connections. While employers may not always judge a candidate based on their university (but let’s be real, they probably do), the amount of experience that a candidate has is imperative. And experiences come from prime opportunities which tends to be directly correlated with a university’s resources. That is, if you are not an enthusiastic go-getter in paving your ambitious career, which is far more people than you might think.

“In terms of the quality of education I’m getting and the professors I have. I think it’s far better than a state school. There are fewer people too. So in comparison to Rutgers I actually get the classes I need. However Georgetown’s endowment is quite small in comparison to other schools. We have a lot of resources, but fewer relatively compared to others that have larger endowments.”

“So my main decision was between Rutgers, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. Rutgers I got a full ride and Cornell gave me no money and Carnegie gave me about 20% of the tuition. Basically it mostly came down to money because I didn’t want to have to spend so much for undergraduate education when I could just go to Rutgers for free and it’s like 10 minutes from my house so it’s convenient. Personally the education was going to be kind of the same anyway so I wanted to save money for graduate school in case I wanted to go. But I don’t regret my decision at all. By becoming involved at Rutgers I’ve made a lot of connections and I’m having fun.”

“For me, it really calmed me when I heard at some presentation somebody said, ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re Harvard or ACCC (our local community college), Newton’s laws are the same anywhere you go.’ So that made me comfortable to go to a “less prestigious” school. I knew that wherever I went, as long as I worked hard, I would end up doing alright and that conversely, if I was going to be lazy in one university, going someplace more like prestigious wasn’t going to motivate me. So that sort of explains why I was comfortable with my choice, but the reasons why were that I didn’t want to come out of college drowning in debt, and I thought it would be stupid to do so when hard work and self study could get me an equally good education. And also I’ve got a little brother and my parents are older so the more money I could save, the more options my brother would have and the less my parents would have to worry.”

“My choice was based on a lot of things; I was deciding between NYU stern, duke, and Rutgers full-ride to pharmacy school at the time. Ultimately, I ended up choosing Duke because of several reasons: Duke has a stellar science program and is a leading research institute and while I really liked economics and the thought of working at Wall Street appealed to me, I thought that if by the off-chance that I didn’t like NYU stern, then I would have to go to NYU, whose science departments are not as strong as Duke’s. I ultimately decided to go to Duke over Rutgers because: at the end of the day, Duke is a private school and Rutgers is a state school and the huge difference in the support system a private school versus a public school offers for students is huge. I thought I would get more personalized and individual support and care from Duke than at Rutgers, which is a huge state school. Also, I heavily considered the environment and atmosphere I would surround myself with. I wanted to immersed in an environment where academics and a solid education were priorities. The student demographic of Duke and Rutgers is quite different and I desired to be in an environment like Duke.”

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