Q: I am a junior and starting to think about where to apply to college next year. I am a pretty good student, so I think I will have a lot of possibilities. But I am really worried about money. I've read so many articles about student debt. My parents can't afford to pay $60,000 a year for college, and I don't want to be stuck with loan payments for 30 years! But everyone says graduating from a top college will help me get into a better grad school or get me a better job.
A: Your first step is to stop believing what "everyone" says! "They" don't know the details regarding every situation. Do you think that job placement and spots in graduate schools are given ONLY to Ivy League alumni and others who attended super-selective private colleges? Of course not. While it is true that some students might feel lost at first attending a very large institution, the chief reason for the aversion to state schools is snobbery.
A degree from an expensive college does not guarantee a great job after graduation.
Likewise, a degree from a less expensive school does not prevent you from getting a great job, either! Major factors in your success will be your creativity, personal initiative, energy in pursuing opportunities, what you have done with your summers, and who has helped you along the way.
Proponents of private institutions are always mentioning the "connectedness" that their alumni enjoy. But they don't have a monopoly on this attribute. Public colleges have "connectedness," too. And if you are bright, energetic, and willing to work hard, you will be able to enter circles of influence. Just yesterday I was browsing on the internet and came across a column written by someone with whom I attended grad school. He is now a full professor at a major university, has written many books and articles, and is nationally renowned as an expert in his area – but where did he do his undergraduate work? At a branch of his state university.
It is ridiculous for students and their families to mortgage their homes, give up their savings, and go into deep debt in order to pay for an undergraduate degree. (Just why some schools even charge as much as they do is another story.) Of course, increased numbers of applicants to state universities mean they are getting quite competitive as well. So start early. Visit some state campuses, including those in nearby states. Even if you go there and pay an out-of-state tuition rate, it will cost less overall than a private college or university. Save your money for medical school, law school, business school, or others things you have planned for your future.