The State Schools

Every state has a university system, which usually falls under the name of “University of (insert state name here).” These colleges receive much of their operating support through tax dollars and as a result charge considerably less tuition than most private schools. Plus, since these colleges can be quite large, they have a tremendous amount of resources, both in terms of facilities and personnel.

As we’ve already mentioned, some state schools rival the Ivy League in terms of reputation and selectivity. It just goes to show that the ideal education may be closer than you think. State schools have gotten better at offering incentives for the best and brightest to stay in state for school, including hefty scholarships for the right students. But once again, the question you have to ask yourself is if a state school is right for you.


The typical state school can resemble a small city, with thousands of students, teachers, and staff mingling among hundreds of academic disciplines. Campus life brings even more hustle and bustle, with Greek life, intercollegiate athletics, and student activities dominating your out-of-class time. It’s not unusual for a new student to feel lost amidst this sea of excitement.


Selectivity varies greatly among these schools, particularly if you want to attend a state school outside of your home state. However, if you have above average test scores, have graduated in the top 20 percent of your class, and wish to attend your own in-state school, you’re very likely to gain admission. Even without stellar grades, however, it’s likely you will be able to attend one of your state’s branch campuses.

For nonresidents wishing to attend the best state schools, the competition is much more intense. This owes primarily to the fact that most states limit the level of out-of-state enrollment, since these are tax-supported institutions. Out-of-state students wishing to attend the University of Michigan, for example, will compete against other applicants with Ivy League–level academic records.

The Flagships

The flagship universities represent the largest and most comprehensive schools in the country. They typically enroll more students than any other four-year colleges and are the focal points of the educational system within their states. This means that they receive the lion’s share of resources, publicity, and money. They often have outstanding athletic programs to complement their educational resources.

Because they are so large, the flagship universities are often broken down into smaller units, usually known as colleges. For example, Rutgers University, the flagship of New Jersey, has several specialty colleges within its system, such as Rutgers College, a liberal arts school, and the Mason Gross School of the Arts. If you want to carve out your own niche with small class sizes but still want to feel part of a larger community, attending a small college within a flagship system may be the way to go.

The Branch Campuses

Many of the state university systems have branch campuses throughout the state. Some of these are tied directly to the flagship universities, while others have forged their own unique paths, thus, you have several options to suit your needs. Do you want a degree from the University of Washington but don’t want to get lost on the massive campus in Seattle? Then perhaps enrolling at the University of Washington at Tacoma campus is the perfect option.

On the other hand, perhaps you want to attend a public university in your home state of Kansas, but don’t see yourself as a University of Kansas Jayhawk. You can attend the equally large Kansas State University in Manhattan or perhaps the much smaller, but equally public, Ft. Hays State University in Hays. The point: If you want to attend a public university, you have plenty of good options other than attending the big flagship school.

Quality of Experience

State schools are definitely the place to be in terms of action. Big lecture halls, big social activities, and big campus events all add to the feeling of excitement. But make sure all these opportunities don’t distract you from your studies. After all, memories of a football championship will mean very little if you never earn your degree.

Quality of Opportunities

Even if you attend one of the smaller branch campuses, you may still have access to the resources of the entire university system. The large state universities offer just about every class you can imagine and almost limitless access to state-of-the-art facilities. If you want to learn journalism at a real television station or nursing at a real hospital, large state universities can give you those opportunities.


Unless you come from out of state, public universities and colleges offer some of the best deals in higher education. In 2005, a year’s tuition at the University of Florida will cost an in-state resident less than $3,000. Even out-of-state residents can find some great tuition deals, often paying $10,000 per year less than at a private college. If cost is a major consideration in your college choice, then applying to at least a couple of state schools should be a part of your game plan.

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