Last year I made one of the biggest decisions that a young person will face: the decision of which college or university to attend. All teens dread making this choice throughout high school, and those who go back to school later in life have to think about it as well. There are many factors that contribute to the end result of this decision making process, such as campus style, school size, location, and educational opportunities. However, the biggest part of choosing a school, which is overlooked by many, is cost. Lets take a look at my own college choice of Boise State University and see what I’m talking about.
My Cost of Education
Boise State is a very inexpensive school for me for a number of reasons. For one, the cost of tuition here is extremely low at just under $6,000 a year. That means the typical four year degree will cost $24,000 in tuition from Boise State. I’m planning on graduating in three and half years, so my degree will be slightly less, but let’s assume that $24,000 for the rest of this discussion.
The other major expense to consider in college is cost of living for the area. According to Payscale.com, the cost of living in Boise as a whole is 4% lower than the national average, with housing being 17% lower. That can make a huge difference to the total cost of going to school somewhere. It costs me $690 per month for my apartment, which includes a second room for my office. This apartment is only two blocks from campus, and is a pretty nice place in general. It would be even cheaper if I wanted to have roommates, or live in a less upscale place. Also, living in a fairly large city like Boise means that I’m able to get a lot of things cheaper than some small college towns. I’m close to a Costco and Winco, as well as other big chain stores. This saves me money on virtually everything I buy compared to small town living. In total, going to school at Boise State is not only affordable, but downright thrifty.
Cost of out of State Schools
One of the dumber things I’ve seen people do from my high school is go to another state’s local college or state university. For instance, I have friends that are in places like Montana State University, University of Washington, and Northern Arizona University. Lets take that last school for an example. Even with the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) scholarship for students that live in the western United States, tuition is still over $12,000 a year for someone from Idaho like myself. Without WUE, a non-resident will pay over $20,000 a year for tuition. The same degree that I will get at Boise State for $24,000 would cost me $48,000 from NAU with WUE, or $80,000 without. Starting to see the difference there? And that’s from a school that has fairly low tuition rates. Now lets look at some that are more expensive, such as University of Colorado in Boulder. UC Boulder is another hot destination for students from my high school, but I don’t think they realize what they’re getting themselves into. For me to go to business school there, it would cost $34,000 a year for tuition alone. Just for another state’s state school! That degree would now cost me well over $100,000 in tuition alone! Then you count in the fact that the cost of living in Boulder is 26% higher than the national average (yikes!), with housing being 84% higher (mega yikes!), you can see that’s just an insane amount of money to get the same degree that I’ll get from Boise State. Another great example of this is the UC system in California. All of the public California schools charge insane amounts for tuition, not to mention the higher cost of living and taxes there.
Cost of Private Schools
Now we need to talk about those crazy things out there called private schools. Sure, some of them will get you a degree with more respect than a similar degree from a state school, such as the Ivy League schools, but many people go to private schools that don’t have that advantage. Lets look at the College of Idaho for example. C of I is near Boise, so the cost of living will be about the same, but what isn’t the same is tuition. There it’ll cost about $24,000 for tuition. They do give some pretty good scholarships if you have above a 3.5 GPA and high test scores, but even with these scholarships, the cost of tuition is still more than double that of Boise State. Going to a private school out of state will cost anywhere from $25,000 to a disgusting $60,000 per year. Private schools are so much more expensive, it simply isn’t worth going into that much debt for. For example, lets say you go to a school that costs you $50,000 a year in tuition. You graduate in four years with a debt of around $150,000. However you now have a degree from a great private university that gets you some awesome job! FANTASTIC! However that job is only paying you $5,000 a year more than the job my BSU degree and I are earning. After all, we both have the same type of degree and got the same grades, so the job won’t be significantly different. It’ll take thirty years for you to be making more money than me after your debt is taken into account. And the scariest part is that I’m not even counting interest on your student loan. Oh, and because I wouldn’t have to pay down my student loans every month, I instead will be able to invest more money towards retirement and earn interest on that money. So in the long run I will be significantly more wealthy, despite the fact that I went to the “lesser” public school.
Even after that thirty years, odds are you won’t be making any more money than I am. Your degree is what gets you your first job, but it’s the experience and recommendation from the first job that gets you the second the majority of times. Most often, going to a private school gets you into loads of debt, and it may never pay off.
Despite all of that, there are sometimes exceptions. There are some cases where cost won’t come into play when choosing a school, like if you get a full ride academic or athletic scholarship to a great private school, it’s obviously cheaper to take that than anything else. Or if someone, most likely your parents, are wealthy and are willing to pay for your entire education wherever you go to school, then take advantage of that opportunity. A free education is obviously better than a cheap education in all scenarios.
Choosing a school isn’t easy. I ended up at Boise State for a variety of reasons, the most significant of which was cost. The education here may not be on the same level of an Ivy League school, but the money it will save me through four short years more than makes up for it. If you are gearing up to make this massive decision yourself, remember that cost is one of the biggest factors.