Why Attending College Out-of-State Can Limit Your Financial Aid

sad piggy bank representing expensive out of state universitiesMost people understand that private colleges have a much higher price tag than public universities which is why many never consider private schools. This is a shame since there are some private colleges that offer great opportunities along with generous financial aid. What a lot of people don’t realize is that out-of-state public institutions generally have the worst characteristics of both public and private colleges. They have the high price of private colleges with the limited financial aid of public universities.

The fact that public universities charge non-residents higher tuition than their own residents shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the states are funding (not as much as they used to) public institutions so that they can provide higher education opportunities at a lower cost for their state residents. California tax payers aren’t interested in helping Illinois residents pay less in tuition.

Therefore, public universities charge non-residents higher tuition.

Non-Residents Should Expect to Pay Expensive Out-of-State Tuition

And depending on the school, non-residents attending a public university essentially pay the cost of going to a private college. The total cost of attendance for non-residents at the University of California Berkeley is over $56,000 a year. Out-of-state students attending the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia are paying over $53,000 for the privilege. The University of Colorado is charging non-residents $50,000 to study on its campus and enjoy the local scenery.

$50,000 for a public university is a lot of money. There are 653 private colleges, about two-thirds of all private institutions, that have a total cost of attendance of less than $50,000.

Of course, if you look at the top 50 national universities as ranked by US News College Rankings, $50,000 is still cheaper than the private schools on the list. The average total price for the 38 private institutions in the top 50 is just over $65,000 while the 15 public universities come in at just over $53,000. That’s a savings of $10,000 but it’s still over $20,000 more than the average paid by state residents.

And remember, being in the top 50 means these schools have little incentive to provide financial aid to attract students. They have plenty of applicants to choose from.

Private College Costs, Public College Value

Furthermore, despite being a top 50 university, the higher out-of-state tuition doesn’t seem like such a great deal when you compare to what it gets you at the private schools. The private universities in the top 50 have on average one-third fewer students than the public universities. The private universities spend over twice the amount on average instruction expenses per student, $43,612, compare to the public average of $19,104.

This helps explain the average student to faculty ratio of 9 for the private institutions and 18 for the public. Finally, students are also much more likely to graduate in four-years at the private schools, 80% at private universities compared to 66% at public.

Basically, the non-residents who attend these public schools are paying the higher prices associated with private universities but not receiving the private school benefits.

Now this doesn’t mean that all public universities are automatically poor financial values for non-residents.

Not All Public Universities Charge Expensive Out-of-State Tuition

Many states are part of exchanges such as the Academic Common Market that allow non-resident students from participating states to attend public universities at a discounted rate. There are also public institutions where the total cost of attendance for non-residents is actually still below the average for private colleges. Students will also find schools offering merit scholarships or in-state tuition for those with qualifying test scores or GPAs to improve their academic standings. (Find which public universities offer full-ride scholarships here.)

Most importantly, none of this affects out-of-state private colleges. Their price tags are the same regardless of where you come from.

The following table lists public universities with a total cost of attendance for out state students of $40,000 or greater.

Most Expensive Out-of-State Universities






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