WBUR has an article about how the best poor students aren’t applying to top-notch colleges: they see the exorbitant sticker prices and then decide to apply to state schools. They aren’t aware that the best schools usually give out very generous financial aid – so generous, in fact, that they are often less expensive than state universities. For top students of limited means, state schools are often the most expensive way to attend university.
Let’s do the math:
UMass Amherst has merit aid awards for top students; unfortunately, those awards only cover the tuition. Tuition is $857 per semester. Room, board, books, and fees are another $21,500 per year. It costs a kid at least $85,000 to get a UMass Amherst diploma, even if that student is a valedictorian.
Compare to Harvard. Harvard students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year automatically pay nothing to attend. For students of less limited means, Harvard is still a good bargain: the university boasts that 90% of American families would pay less for their kid to attend that prestigious Cambridge institution than to attend their state university.
Even if a student isn’t Harvard material, many schools offer extremely generous financial aid. One of my classmates at Tufts paid $3,000 per year – which included room and board. (Savings over UMass Amherst: enough to buy a new Porsche.) Many people who got into top schools took full merit aid at institutions like Northeastern, W&L, or Vassar. Full merit at those schools leaves students with an annual cost of attendance of $14,500, $16,000, and $12,000, respectively.
Top students can get a fancy private school education and a luxury automobile for less than they would spend at state universities.