M.K. of North Hills, NY writes:

My son, a high school senior, will be applying for admission to colleges this fall. He has several prestigious, and expensive, private colleges in mind. His father and I were thinking more along the lines of one of the university centers of our state university. Your thoughts?

The College Whisperer responds:

When it comes to public universities versus private colleges, it would seem we think alike, M.K.

Too many folks -- particularly impressionable students who think money grows on trees (it used too, until the wild fires consumed every last one of them) -- think that private beats public, hands down.


Aside from the fact that you can get as good an education -- or better -- at public universities, where as many or more of the faculty hold doctorates, the bang for the buck is substantial.

Take New York University. Please. The estimated cost of attendance for one year approaches $60,000 (tuition, fees, room and board, books and personal expenses).

Compare that to, say, SUNY's Binghamton University, often referred to as "a public ivy," where the entire kit and kaboodle can be yours for just slightly over $18,000 per year.

Now, we could debate, ad nauseum, whether NYU's perceived lofty status is exceeded only by the unimaginably burdensome debt-load of its graduates (versus public universities, where student debt is among the lowest), and whether SUNY's study abroad program rivals a year of study at NYU's Abu Dhabi campus (they have an Abu Dhabi campus? Why?), but The College Whisperer was a Political Science major undergrad, so you do the math.

But private universities are more prestigious, aren't they?

In their own minds, up in that ivory tower of academia, yes. In reality?

Consider that the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan are both public, state universities. Add to the list the University of North Carolina and the University of California's Berkeley.  Prestigious enough for you?

Granted, the tuition at some of these state schools is up there, particularly for out-of-state students, but compare the cost of even the most expensive public university to, say, the most expensive private colleges, and we're talking real big bucks, folks. [Check out Campus Grotto for a list of most expensive colleges, both total overall cost and tuition].

What words come to mind? Insane? Absurd? Highway robbery? All of the above?

Lady Gaga, who was once enrolled at NYU, can probably afford to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. Can you?

When it comes to the public vs. private debate, the edge goes to public, decisively. On value, quality, academics and amenities, many public institutions rival, if not outright overtake, their private counterparts. On affordability, well, better in your pocket than in the Bursar's (what the heck is a Bursar, anyway?) at an overpriced private school.

Yes, there are instances where private will trump public. Certain programs fitting particular needs. Legacies (highly overrated). Full-ride scholarships.

That said, students, and, certainly, parents footing the bill and looking for affordable, first rate education, should consider public universities (notably, the ones in their own state).

We're not saying, mind you, to forsake the private colleges, by any means. Apply (although, here too, NYU's application fee of $70 is rather steep). Weigh costs (literally) versus benefits. See where you are accepted, and what kind of financial aid package each school -- public and private -- offers. Then, make you decision.

As is often the case, one student's priorities may vary from another's, or even from that of his parents. Cost, too, is not everything to everyone. Take, for instance, a consortium of small private colleges, struggling to meet enrollment, that increased tuition substantially. The following year, enrollment skyrocketed. Apparently, there are still people out there who believe you always get more when you pay more. Go figure!

E-mail The College Whisperer at info@TheCollegeWhisperer.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.
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