The Price of State Colleges vs. Private Colleges

One of the biggest myths for high school students and their families is that state schools are always cheaper — generally a lot cheaper — than comparable smaller, private colleges.

Is it true? Not really. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons we created MyCollegePrice in the first place. In many cases, attending a private college or university can be a great and affordable choice for a student who fits the school’s target academic profile.

One of the biggest misunderstandings is the difference between a college’s so-called “sticker price” and the net price.

Sticker Price vs Net Price

Sticker price is the full cost of attendance, which is usually posted on the school’s site.

Net price is the actual cost for the student and his or her family. It takes into account federal Pell grants and institutional scholarships — essentially free money — that lower the cost of attendance.

Private College vs State College

Private colleges often offer extensive and generous institutional scholarship packages or merit aid that drastically reduce the cost of attendance for most students. Conversely, larger state schools generally only award a few scholarships each year and most students pay close to full price.

This means that even if a private college’s site lists their price to be twice as much as a comparable state school — say $40,000 per year versus $20,000 — it’s likely that for families with middle incomes, the actual cost of the private college will turn out to be similar (and sometimes even less expensive)  than a public university. Many students are likely to receive large institutional scholarships that would bring the cost of attendance below the $20,000 that they would end up paying for the state college.

In fact, for students with great academics and test scores, the cost to attend the private college may be less than $5,000 per year or even nothing, depending on the institutional awards that are available.

It’s true that on the surface, the sticker price of a private university can seem astronomical to most families. But, it’s important to keep in mind what actually matters: the net price. And when you compare net prices, private schools are often a much more affordable option for many students.


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