Consider a Public Ivy School if You Want a Strong, Affordable Education

Robert Berger

The term "Public Ivy" cropped up in 1985 with Richard Moll's book "Public Ivies: A Guide to America's Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities." Many of these selective, high-performing schools can compete with the famed private Ivy League colleges like Yale and Harvard, but offer a more affordable education.

High-performing students looking for a top-notch education--without shelling out tens of thousands of dollars--would do well to check out the country's public Ivy League schools. While getting into a Public Ivy can be tough, getting a good education at a more reasonable price could be a high school graduate's best option.

However, it's important to note that there are varying opinions among experts as to which schools should be considered a top Public Ivy. The idea of a strong Public Ivy doesn't just include high-performing academics but also encompasses a rich history, attractive campus and diverse student population that you'd expect from the ivied halls of a Yale or a Harvard.

These factors are worth considering before deciding whether a Public Ivy is right for you:

How much do these schools cost? Because Public Ivies are partially state-funded, their tuition fees are substantially lower than those of academically-comparable private schools.

For comparison's sake, let's look at the 2012-2013 tuition rates of several private and public ivies:


-- Harvard University: $40,866

-- Princeton University: $38,650

-- Yale University: $42,300


-- University of California, Berkeley: $11,767 (in-state), $34,645 (out-of-state)

-- University of Virginia: $12,006 (in-state), $38,018 (out-of-state)

-- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: $13,437 (in-state), $39,109 (out-of-state)

As you can see, there's not a dramatic difference between tuition for private colleges and out-of-state tuition for public universities. There is a gap, however, between in-state tuition and private tuition. Moreover, even out-of-state students can often save some money by going to a Public Ivy rather than a traditional Ivy League school.

Public Ivies, however, are more expensive than lower-ranking public schools. For instance, 2012-2013 tuition rates at the University of South Dakota (No. 115 on U.S. News' list of top public schools) are just $7,704 for in-state students and $9,650 for out-of-state students.

Still, there's something to be said for an academically-rigorous program and a degree that may carry more weight in your field.

Consider the whole package. Because of private funding, Ivy League schools can be less expensive for a select group of high-performing applicants--especially those with high financial needs. Students from wealthy families frequently pay the full-sticker price, allowing students from lower-end families to get large scholarships and grants.

The key, though, is to look at the whole package. If you're living in the same state as a Public Ivy--or can establish residency near your school of choice before college--it's probably the most affordable way to get an outstanding education. Nonetheless, you'll want to apply to a variety of colleges, including some public schools that are lower on your list and private schools that may be a financial or academic reach.

When dreaming of an education couched in ivied halls, decades of history and excellent academics, look beyond the traditional list of Ivy League colleges to today's top public schools. You might be surprised how affordable an ivy-style education can be.

Rob Berger is the founder of the popular personal finance blog, the Dough Roller, where he writes about personal finance and investing, including topics related to higher education.

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