When deciding which colleges to apply to, many parents and high school students never consider private schools because they fear they won’t be able to afford the higher tuition. Cost often plays a big part in which schools a student applies to; specifically, it may turn some students away from applying to private colleges and universities that would otherwise be an excellent academic fit. In reality, though, a college’s “sticker price” may not accurately reflect your required financial contribution. So, don’t take private schools off of your student’s college list just yet.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 was designed to help families calculate a more accurate estimate of how much college costs by requiring colleges and universities to include net price calculators on their websites. A net price calculator asks families a few questions, then shows an estimate of their tuition payments once financial aid is included. The College Board published a report in 2013 that showed on average full-time undergraduate students at private four-year schools actually pay less than 50% of the published tuition price..
According to David Leonhardt’s blog post published in the New York Times, “For high-achieving, low-income students, some of the cheapest places to attend college are the ones with the highest list prices. Thanks to their endowments, these elite colleges often award large scholarships to poor and even many middle-class students.” Private schools offer more need-based and merit-based financial aid, and their financial aid packages are more generous than those from public universities. Larger financial aid packages can bring down that total net price in a very significant way.
The amount of time that it takes your student to get his or her degree will also affect how much your student’s college education costs. The National Center for Education Statistics published a report in 2011 showing that 78% of students at private colleges completed their bachelor’s degree in just four years, while only 60% of state school students were able to do so. Attending a private school increases the probability of graduating in a four-year period, which can ease the financial burden overall because you won’t be paying for tuition, room and board, and books and supplies for additional semesters.
What does this mean for you and your student? It means that those “dream schools” you crossed off your student’s college list due to their high price tags could actually be much more affordable than you first thought.
For more information about public versus private college costs, check out this video from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities: 9 Myths about Private Nonprofit Higher Education. Overall, it is really important to take the entire financial picture into account when deciding where to apply to college.