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State Universities: The Pros and Cons

Feb 4, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

There are plenty of advantages to attending a state school. Many have excellent academic reputations on a national level—almost as good as the Ivy Leagues. If you go to school in-state, you’ll get a serious break in tuition prices—even with recent hikes in tuition costs. And most state universities offer a wide variety of majors, as well as different levels of academic study—from Associate’s degrees to Masters and beyond.

However, state schools aren’t right for everyone. Here’s an overview of the most prominent benefits and disadvantages.

Why State Schools are Popular

Affordable tuition, especially for in-state students

If you choose to attend your local state school, you’ll get a major tuition break. Average in-state tuition for public schools is about $7,605, which can seriously reduce your student loan bill compared with out-of-state public schools and private institutions. Some states also offer “reciprocity” on in-state tuition, so that, for example, students from Wisconsin and Minnesota can attend either state’s university and pay the in-state tuition price. 

Student Reading

Many students thrive at state schools—do some research into your local state school—and see if it’s the perfect fit for you.




Good reputation

Many public schools are very academically rigorous and have excellent reputations for academics. Some public schools have national-level reputations, and can look almost as good—if not just as good—on your resume as an elite private school.

Dynamic social atmosphere

Like private colleges, public universities often have a thriving campus social life, with plenty of extracurricular clubs, groups, organizations, and opportunities for students to build their resumes, explore new interests, and exercise their leadership skills. Some public colleges have high-ranking sports teams and many college social activities revolve around them.

May be more accommodating to adult student

Because they’re less expensive, many adult and nontraditional students choose to attend in-state public schools. Because of this, these schools have adapted to the needs of nontraditional students. It’s more common to find evening and weekend classes at public schools than at private universities.

Lots of options

Because of their size, many state schools offer a wide variety of options when it comes to majors. Your state school may offer continuing education options for adult students, professional certifications, and advanced-level Masters’ and Doctorate degree options as well as the typical Bachelor’s degree programs. This makes it ideal for nontraditional students as well as traditional students who may want to continue their educations beyond the Bachelor’s degree level. Of course, this isn’t true for all state schools—so check into yours to see what options it offers.

The Disadvantages of Public Universities 

Class sizes

Public schools tend to have a large student body compared with private schools and community colleges. Large lecture-hall classes aren’t unusual until you get to the more advanced classes in your major. For students who need or want more individual attention and smaller class sizes, a public school may not be the best fit.

Large student body

It’s not unusual for 20,000 or more undergraduate students to attend a public college. For some students, the experience of a large campus can be isolating—making it more difficult to find the right niche and group of people. Smaller campuses often feel more socially welcoming to new students than a large campus.

Professor accessibility

Because of the large class sizes at many public schools, it’s very difficult for professors to be widely available to all students. As a result, students may never have an individual conversation with some of their professors. This can make it more difficult to get help for academic issues—as well as develop mentor relationships that can be helpful throughout a student’s academic career and beyond.

State schools are an excellent choice if your in-state college has a good reputation and you don’t want to sacrifice academic reputation and rigor for more reasonable tuition prices. Still, they’re not the right choice for everyone. Many state schools have huge student bodies, which means you’ll likely see larger class sizes, have trouble connecting with professors, and may take a while to find your social niche. Still, many students thrive at state schools—and the tuition prices for in-state and reciprocal-state students can be worth the large class sizes. Do some research into your local state school—and see if it’s the perfect fit for you.



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