Dear Mentor:

What are the differences between state and private schools?

I am a high school senior [final year in high school]. I understand that there is a big difference in tuition costs among state schools, out-of-state schools, and private schools for higher education. Why is it so? How much emphasis should I put on this aspect, as I begin to apply for college admission? I can apply to only a handful of schools, since they all require application fee.

College-Bound, Michigan, USA

Dear College-Bound:

It all depends on your personal situation-your ambitions, desires, academic performance, means, and so on. The end game of course is to make yourself valuable and knowledgeable in your chosen profession.

A state school (college or university) is, at least in part, funded by the state government -- that is, it is partly funded by the money received from the tax payers of the state. So the thinking goes that the residents of the state should pay lower tuition than those who are non-residents. International students (students from other countries) are always considered non-residents or out-of-state students. State schools however tend to have lower tuition than private schools, even for non-residents. Private schools do not receive any direct funding for education from the government, so they make all students pay the same tuition.

The cost of tuition would generally be a factor in your selection of schools, unless of course money is not an issue. As we have said before in this column, life is a balance between what we desire and what we can have. You should choose the best schools where you have at least a chance of being admitted and which are within your financial means. Please do keep in mind that your means may not be restricted to the out-of-pocket finances that you can afford. Depending on your academic performance and financial situation, most schools would put together a financial aid package for you. Assuming that you are a citizen or a legal resident of the US, you would certainly be eligible for government loans. Schools can sometimes offer additional support in the form of scholarships, tuition waivers, etc., but that would depend on your individual situation. Once you get admitted, you may be able to negotiate the financial aid package with the school.

Focusing your search solely on the schools in your state may be too restrictive, but on the other hand, constraints of reality, namely your academic performance and financial situation, may also limit your actions.

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