More Than Money in Your Pocket: The State University Advantage
Compiled by the counselors at ApplyWise.com and IvyWise
In a time of recession, one advantage of your state university is clear: cost. Even top-ranked public colleges carry impressively low price tags for in-state students. In-state tuition at the University of Virginia is $9,490 per year, meaning you could get a UVA degree for the cost of one year's tuition at many private schools! Even more impressive are the scholarships your state university will use to keep you close to home-- such as Georgia's Hope Scholarship, or the full rides that the University of Vermont gives to the state’s valedictorians. But beyond the bank balance, what do you get out of a public education?
Admissions by the Numbers
While college admissions is never a completely clear process (even to us!), state schools, especially those with large student bodies and enormous application pools, rely more on grades and test scores to determine who gets in. Also, they often release minimum admissions requirements for GPA and SAT or ACT scores, making the admissions process more transparent.
In-state students especially benefit from simplified admissions. In Texas, the top 10% of high school students in the state earn automatic admission to most of the state’s public universities (the rule has changed slightly at UT-Austin due to an overlarge applicant pool). Many states have similar programs—look at Florida’s ‘Talented 20’ plan, and California’s ‘Eligibility in Local Context’ program. However, out-of-state students vying for a spot a selective public university may have to work harder at showing extracurricular accomplishments, passion, and personality through their applications.
What do the reigning champions of NCAA Division I football, baseball, men's and women's basketball have in common? They're all state schools. Even if you're not a jock, a winning college sports team brings great things to a campus-- funding, media attention, and school spirit that brings together even the largest student bodies. Further, local interest in your school's team can mean improved 'town-gown' relations. Sports Illustrated’s Top 10 "Best College Sports Towns" featured nine public universities, the list being led by Madison Wisconsin, where bars and restaurants provide specials for students and locals cheering on the Badgers.
Public schools like the University of Miami and California’s UC schools have been lauded for their ethnic diversity. But low tuition and well-funded scholarship programs also attract students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. A flagship campus can be a great mingling place for students with different religious, ethnic, and family origins-- and an important learning experience for a sheltered freshman.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Looking for an obscure major, minor, or study abroad opportunity? State universities are all about choice. The University of Michigan offers 200 major programs, everything from jazz studies to geophysical engineering, and 70% of its programs, departments, and schools are ranked in the top 10 in the country. And liberal arts schools aren’t the only places for quirky class titles: check out UC Berkeley’s “Arguing with Judge Judy,” a class about the logic of TV courtroom participants.
Outside of the classroom, there's another array of possibilities: religious groups, Greek organizations, sports and clubs by the dozens. University of Minnesota boasts of its 2000 student groups, including a self-proclaimed “non-creepy” Campus People Watchers group. Ohio State has an underwater scuba hockey team!
Also, looking at the broader picture, state schools are diverse among themselves. For example, a native Virginian can choose between Virginia Tech, with its 23,000 undergrads and strong engineering program, and the College of William and Mary, with its liberal arts curriculum and 5,700 undergrads, both public schools.
Overall, variety is probably the biggest bonus of a state education. However, if the idea of so many people, classes, and choices overwhelms rather than excites you, look into an honors program. The University of Arkansas Honors College, the University of Connecticut Honors Scholar Program, and the University of Colorado at Boulder Honors Program are just a few that provide students with smaller classes, increased contact with professors, and special residence halls. Honors programs can give you the personal attention of a private school at a public school cost.
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