If you’re reading this article, congratulations! You’re about to make a big and very exciting decision -- where you want to go for college. It’s the place that you’ll call home for the next four years -- the place where you’ll train for your career, make lifelong friendships, start your professional network, uncover new skills and passions, and do a ton of learning and growing inside the classroom and out. No pressure, right?
There are lots of ways you can narrow down your college search -- by major, by location, the list goes on -- but many students start by deciding whether they want to go after a public or private education first.
Public and private colleges each have their pros and cons, but today we’re focusing in on the pricetag -- private colleges and universities often have a reputation for being expensive, but do private schools give more financial aid as well?
We’ll be covering everything you need to know about financing a public vs. private college education, including:
- Why private schools might choose to be more generous with their financial aid packages
- The actual cost of attending a public vs. private school education
- Tips for getting the most out of your financial aid no matter what school you attend
So let’s get started!
Do Private Schools Give More Financial Aid?
Breaking Down What You Can Expect to Receive From a Private vs. Public Institution
It’s no secret that private schools tend to have a higher price tag than other types of institutions, but how much higher? According to the College Board’s annual Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid report, the average publicly listed sticker price of tuition at a private, four-year college was $38,070 compared to $10,740 for in-state public school tuition (or $27,560 for out-of-state).
Keep in mind that those numbers just reflect the tuition price. The actual cost of attendance includes a number of factors, including among others:
- Room & board
- Books & supplies
- And more
Luckily, most students aren’t stuck paying the full tuition sticker price because schools often provide some level of financial support. This year, first-time students in public four-year institutions were left with an estimated net price of $2,640 for tuition and fees, the lowest number in the last 15 years.
By comparison, students at private institutions paid a net price of $14,990 after grants.
So how much help did colleges actually provide? Based on these numbers:
- Public institutions provided an average of $8,100 in support, covering approx. 75% of in-state tuition
- Private institutions provided an average of $23,080 in support, covering approx. 61% of tuition
Why do private schools give more financial aid?
Private Schools Offer More Aid to Offset the Price of Tuition
Finding an affordable school is a big priority for many students, particularly in this generation of college students. With more and more college graduates seeking advanced degrees -- a study found that within four years of graduating, nearly 40% of students return to school to pursue a graduate education -- keeping the price of an undergraduate degree as low as possible becomes increasingly important.
And finding affordable schools is no small task. According to a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, college tuition and fees have increased by a stunning 570% over the past 30 years.
An American family, on average, is expected to pay $10,000 a year for an in-state public college and almost $40,000 for a private college. Obviously, this is a huge difference for a lot of families, who respond to the price difference by giving up the option of going to private colleges entirely.
For that reason, there have been substantial decreases in the number of undergraduate enrollments of private colleges over the years.
So what’s a private school to do?
That’s right -- offer expanded financial aid packages to help offset the cost of attending their schools. By offering aid to keep their tuition prices more competitive, private colleges are able to capture the interest of students who would not consider attending a private school otherwise.
Even in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic recession, private institutions realized that they needed to provide some additional incentives to fill empty seats each semester.
According to some colleges’ officials, for every dollar of tuition, the schools can only bring in roughly 55 cents after giving financial aid. But compared to making less money on every tuition dollar, private colleges are more worried about empty seats, resulting in no revenue at all.
So if you’re interested in exploring the possibility of attending a private college, it might be time to put those options back on the table.
How to Get the Most Financial Aid Possible
Attending a Private College? Use These Tips to Make it As Affordable As Possible
College tuition has skyrocketed over the last few decades, but there are still plenty of ways to finance your college education to make attending the private college of your dreams a financially viable option.
There is money out there to help support college students. It may take some effort to make it work, but it is possible to make a private college education more affordable.
Here’s where to start:
1. Complete the FAFSA, and complete it early.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is step number one in financing any college education. If you’re a newbie to the financial aid process, the FAFSA determines what sort of government support you’ll be eligible to receive, including loans, grants, and work study jobs.
The FAFSA as well as many of its state-level counterparts, disburse support on a first come, first served basis, so be sure to submit early to increase your chances of receiving the full amount of aid you are eligible to receive.
2. Appeal or negotiate your financial aid offer
The first financial aid award you get from a university is not necessarily the final offer, but to successfully negotiate the price of attending down, you’ll want to be prepared.
If your financial aid is need-based, make sure the university you are applying to has a complete understanding of the factors causing you to require additional aid.
If there are additional pieces of information or special circumstances that you don’t feel were represented on the FAFSA or your other interactions with the university, you can ask about the process for appealing the financial aid award. Gather any documents that support your case, and try to be as specific as possible in your appeal. You are asking the university to take additional information into consideration to convince them that you deserve additional financial help, so be prepared to verify that information for them.
If the price after financial aid is out of your budget, you still don’t have to accept the first financial aid award that the university offers. You can begin a negotiation, similar to negotiating a job salary.
If you go the negotiation route, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind when interacting with the universities financial aid office:
- Convey to them that you are excited to have an offer from them and interested in attending, but the cost of attending is prohibitive
- Ask them if they can provide any additional financial aid to make attending more affordable and remain competitive with the offers you have received from other universities
- You do not have to tell them what other universities you have applied to, been accepted to, or what they have offered
- Be polite and avoid coming across as confrontational -- using phrases like “negotiate” and “bargain” will probably come across as too heavy-handed and might not get you the financial award you want
- Advocate for yourself! The second offer might not be enough either -- negotiating is a process, so try to be as patient, professional, and prepared as you can
3. Always know the deadlines
True or false: you have to wait until you’re accepted at a university to start the conversation about financial aid with their financial aid office.
Surprisingly, the answer is false! You can actually start negotiating as soon as you apply.
Some colleges start the financial aid applications as early as November, so do not wait to reach out to the university’s financial aid office. It is your responsibility to prepare for the financial aid application before the deadlines.
3. Be clear on your university’s scholarship policy
The largest financial aid packages you are offered as a college student will probably come from the federal government, state government, or college itself. Of course, you can apply for additional scholarships and grants to further offset the cost of attending school, but make sure you read the fine print first!
Other scholarships and grants can affect the amount of financial aid for which you are eligible from these three main sources of financial aid, so talk to the schools about their outside scholarship policy. Don’t give up your biggest financial aid packages for a handful of smaller awards.
4. But do seek out additional support if it won’t interfere with your financial aid package
For many students and their families, college can still feel overwhelmingly expensive even after federal, state, and college-based financial aid has been applied. That’s where searching for scholarships and grants comes into play. Finding and applying for different opportunities can be a big project, but the results can be very worth it.
When applying for scholarships, keep in mind these helpful tips:
- Search local. Local scholarships receive fewer applicants and are therefore less competitive, so you have a better chance at receiving an award
- Work smarter. Many scholarship applications will request an essay. Keep all of the essays you write -- you might be able to reuse pieces of what you’ve written for other scholarships to make the application process more efficient (and avoid writing the same essay over and over again)
- Be consistent. Getting scholarships is a numbers game, just like applying to colleges or applying for jobs. Set aside time each week to work on applying, and you’re sure to see results.
5. Consider getting the help of a financial aid consultant
Applying for financial aid can be overwhelming. It’s a highly structured process, and there’s definitely a learning curve to getting it right. If you feel like you are sinking tons of time and energy into the financial aid application process and not seeing results, or you’re still confused and want to make sure you’ve completed everything properly, you definitely aren’t alone.
It’s stressful to know that a tiny mistake can mean losing a bunch of money towards attending the school of your dreams! That’s where financial aid consultants come into play. They have expertise and experience, so you don’t have to navigate the complex financial aid application process alone.
Not only does it give you peace of mind, it might very well save you some big bucks as well.
Private schools are typically more expensive than public schools, but if your college dreams involve studying at a small, private school, don’t worry. Private schools are also likely to offer large financial aid packages to help offset the cost of tuition and give interested students an incentive to attend their institution.