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Articles / Applying to College / Does a high price tag mean that a college is good?

Feb. 11, 2002

Does a high price tag mean that a college is good?

Question: Does a high price tag mean that a college is good?

Higher education is a lot like any other consumer product. In general, you get what you pay for. There are exceptions, though. Sometimes a surprising value can be had.

Let's take a look at the situation. This coming fall, the nation's most expensive schools will have student budgets (tuition, room and board, fees, books, and travel) hovering in the mid-thirty- thousand dollar range. That's right--$35,000 or so. That's more than a lot of families make in one year before taxes.

Other situations, such as two-year commuter schools, can be as inexpensive as $5,000 or less per year. That's about 85% less. What's the difference? Can one school be seven times better than another?

My answer to your question, then, is: It depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for the least-expensive route to a professional or technical credential that might very well move you into a skilled area of employment, then the live-at-home-and-commute option may be best for you. If you're looking for a broader, more diversified approach to education, then some variation of the live-away-from-home-on-campus choice makes sense, even though it's more expensive.

Another way to look at expensive schools is that they may well have the financial aid available to bring their net cost much closer to the lower-priced schools than you might imagine. You've heard me say here many times: Get into the best and most expensive school you can. Financial aid is the reason. The more expensive schools usually have more money to give in financial aid, thus making their true cost much lower for families who really need the help.

Try to look at potential colleges without be blinded by their costs. Once you find the right match, the financial details can be, in most cases, worked out.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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