Sigh. So here I’ve been, trying to convince our son that he should consider the flagship university of our state system — the University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign). Hey, if it was good enough for your dad…
Actually, U of I is a great school, ranked in the top 50 of the highly coveted US News college rankings. The business and engineering colleges are ranked amongst the best in the country. It has always been known as a great value for Illinois residents (which we are). When our daughter applied in 2004, the tuition and room/board total was less than $15,000 per year, literally one-third the cost of comparable private schools. The actual tuition was $6,000 (room and board are pretty standard no matter which college you want to attend — public or private). A terrific value, no?
Imagine our surprise when friends with a high school senior daughter mentioned the other night that although their daughter was admitted to U of I, the costs placed it as more expensive as their daughter’s first choice, SUNY (State University of New York) at Binghamton. Yes, you heard right. Out-of-state tuition for this highly ranked, excellent university in New York is actually less than in-state tuition for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign!
I had gotten an inkling of this trend a couple of years ago, when I’d heard rumors that U of I was more interested in luring out-of-staters than our home-bred college kids. Whether the intention was to build its already stellar reputation at the expense of Illinois families, or to make more money for the school, I’m not entirely sure (and it's a matter of debate). But clearly, it made no sense. In fact, the out of state tuition of several excellent (at least as good as U of I) schools is a better bargain than Illinois has become for Illinois residents. Ridiculous, huh? Take, for example, the University of Texas at Austin. A great school in a great college town (city). A music scene unparalleled anywhere else (including, I’m told New York and Los Angeles) — something to consider when your high school junior is seriously contemplating pursuing the brand new field of “Music Industry” (as ours is).
Indeed, there are bargains to be had among private schools as well. Rice University, also in Texas (Houston) has an incredible endowment and chooses to share it with all admitted students. Cost at Rice is about $10,000 less than the tuition for comparable private universities, like Northwestern, Washington University (in St. Louis), and Columbia (in New York). And they are generous with academic scholarships as well.
And don’t forget Canada! Even with the American dollar being virtually even in value with the Canadian dollar, Canadian schools are Ivy-quality with an “in-state” public school price tag. When our daughter was admitted to McGill in Montreal in 2004, the cost was about the same as the in-state tuition for Illinois.
So now that our son’s SAT scores are in (he did fairly well with a 690 math and a 590 verbal — he’s obviously better in math than critical reading) and he continues to prepare for the upcoming ACTs in April (and no doubt a re-take of both next year), we move to a new (and more serious) phase in “the process.” Within a couple of weeks, no doubt, our mailbox (and his email box) will be filled to brimming with all sorts of enticing cards, letter, invitations, and other assorted goodies from colleges that want him. Today he got the first batch. One big package from University of Illinois, and another offering him a full scholarship to our local (two-year) community college. With the price of tuition, especially at our esteemed flagship university, that may not be something to sneeze at!
So what's the plan? Currently, our son has several schools on his "list." The "list" has three sections: "safety" schools; "reach" schools; and "good fit" schools." We will continue to add to and delete from this list of candidate schools; attend the college fair that is coming to our town next week; and begin to seriously think about whether it's all that important that the school have a "Music Industry" program (which is his major "du jour" — in all fairness to him, it's been his choice major since he was 14.)
We will also begin to apply other criteria, such as size, location, the existence of a vibrant Jewish campus life (something more important to us as parents than it is to him — but we do have a say in this!). And, eventually, hopefully by late this spring, we will have a (more or less) final (and reasonable) list of school that make sense for him — and for us. However, as in everything connected with this merry (or not) chase, everything's subject to change.