Looking Beyond Dream Schools for College

This week, I’ve been focusing on colleges and universities that are pricey. Here the the posts if you’ve missed them:
 Is That Flagship Worth the Price?
Attending Expensive East Coast Universities
The majority of students limit their college choices to schools within two hours of driving distance, but those who want to look elsewhere tend to salivate over the same expensive dream schools.
When you look at lists of dream schools, they tend to be prestigious state flagship universities (for nonresidents), as well as many of the private institutions that are parked primarily in cities on the East Coast. Thanks to supply and demand, these schools can command much higher prices. I wrote a story about the hazards of dream schools earlier this year for my college blog for CBS MoneyWatch:

What’s Wrong With America’s Dream Colleges

Thinking Outside the Box

If you haven’t saved a quarter million dollars for your child’s education to pay for the dream schools that are eager to gouge you, here’s what I’d suggest: Get more creative when drawing up a college list.
Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful schools spread across the country that are more reasonably priced. So how do you find them?
One way is to check out schools in regions where the starting prices aren’t $50,000 and up! That means casting a wider net and keeping an open mind. Schools in the South, the Midwest and many parts of the West certainly fit that bill.  There are lots of private schools in the $30,000 and $40,000 range (before financial aid/merit awards are deducted) or even the high $20,000’s. Get a decent award and these schools can cost the same or less than residents are charged for their state universities.

Idaho Anyone?

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
How about looking at schools like the College of Idaho, a private liberal arts college? The price for tuition and room/board is about $30,000 and that’s before any financial aid or merit scholarships are deducted. The average merit award at the College of Idaho is $11,439, while the average need-based financial aid package is $20,565. According to Forbes’ college rankings, which I think are much more legit than US News & World Report’s college rankings, the College of Idaho performs better than such hot East Coast schools as Emerson College, NYU and Northeastern University and flagships like the University of Oregon and University of Colorado.
What also impressed me about the College of Idaho were the students’ opinions about their teachers, according to the newest edition of the Princeton Review’s The Best 376 Colleges (2012 edition). While admittedly, this isn’t a scientific survey, students at the Idaho school gave their professors excellent marks. The professors received an interesting rating of 93 (maximum is 100) and a 93 rating for professor accessibility.

Dream College Stats

Let’s compare the stats of the College of Idaho’s professors to profs at a few schools that are on lots of dream college lists:

  • UCLA:  69 interesting professors, 67 professor accessibility
  • University of Michigan:  65 interesting professors,  71 professor accessibility
  • New York University:  78 interesting professors;  71 professor accessibility
  • Harvard University:    71 interesting professors; 71 professor accessibility

If you’re curious which school received the top honors for the best professors, using those two measurements, it was Wellesley College, an excellent women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts:  99 interesting professors, 98 professor accessibility. By the way, it wasn’t at all surprising to me that professors at the liberal arts colleges featured in the Princeton Review book consistently received higher rankings than their peers at universities.
Come back tomorrow and I’ll share some final thoughts on how you can find wonderful colleges throughout the country.

Read More at The College Solution:

What Colleges Have Your Major?
Measuring the Worth of a College
Deciphering a Financial Aid Package

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