To Save at College, Leverage Your Flagship University

by Fred Siegmund

Every fall, U.S. News and World Report publishes its annual Best Colleges list, which includes current tuition and fees. This and other college guides are excellent sources of tuition information, but generally this is only the sticker price.

When it comes to tuition, the schools to watch are the state’s flagship public universities.

In Virginia, that is the University of Virginia; in Michigan, it is the University of Michigan; in California it is UC Berkeley and so on. Each state has at least one well respected state supported university.

Private Schools Will Cut Tuition for Excellence

Tuition at a state’s flagship university will be well below private colleges, and that includes private colleges with and without a national reputation of academic excellence.

Private schools do not get a legislative appropriation, so they must have higher tuition than state universities to meet their budgets. Higher tuition puts them at a disadvantage to attract the highest achieving students who can attend a state’s flagship university at much lower cost.

To attract excellent students, private colleges are willing to offer a combination of options that sound like scholarships or grants, but really amount to a tuition cut.

Know Your Local Tuition to Leverage Scholarships

The market competition for students makes tuition at flagship state universities the floor for discounted tuition offered to high GPA students. This is why the first thing you need to know is the tuition of your state’s flagship university.

For example, the published tuition for North Carolina residents at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is $5,625, which becomes the benchmark tuition for North Carolina residents. If that is too much to pay, then expect other smaller and lesser known state colleges to have lower in-state tuition, or consider a junior college. Use the benchmark $5,625 as your maximum.

If $5,625 is not too much to pay, a student with a high GPA can apply to any number of out of state private schools and plan to get, or hold out for, an offer around $5,625.00. Colleges now generally request a list of other college applications. It is a good idea to tell them, and as a bargaining strategy to include your state’s flagship university on the list.

There was a time when parents would tell the kids to “Study and you’ll get into a good college.” Now it should be “Study and we’ll save a bundle.”

Private colleges will cut their price for good students; make it be you.

About the author: Fred Siegmund covers America's jobs as part of work doing labor market analysis and projections for a client base of recruiters, trainers and counselors. Visit him at

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