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
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
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 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
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
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.