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The Scoop on State Schools
by Alissa Gomoka (Alumni)

A recent college graduate, I vividly remember touring campuses as a prospective student in search of my dream school.  My sixteen year old self turned her nose up at anything inconsistent with her media-based perception of what a campus should boast — historic architecture, sprawling quads, and country-club like amenities.  I did, in fact, tour colleges that checked off all these coveted aesthetics.  But I also toured an unassuming university within the New York State system, otherwise known as SUNY, that didn't meet any of my now admittedly superficial criteria.  My visit to this SUNY school left me underwhelmed and wanting; where were the picturesque lecture halls and buildings, or the bohemian college town?  Without these features, or the comfort of a recognizable name, I vowed never to go there — even if the school was touted an under-the-radar gem.

But alas, somewhere before the May 1st college enrollment deadline, I came to my senses.  All of my initial criteria were superfluous, and came at a hefty price; upwards of forty thousand dollars a year, to be exact.  Why spend that much on a school when I could get an equivalent education at an economical state school?  After weighing all factors, I ultimately enrolled in that humble SUNY... and only slightly begrudgingly.

I started my freshman year still somewhat lamenting the well-known, prestigious schools that I passed up.  But over the course of my college tenure, these feelings of longing were replaced by satiety.  I can now say with confidence that my time at a state school turned me, an admitted cynic, into an advocate of public universities.  Many state schools, though aesthetically unremarkable compared to private institutions and far less renowned, offer an education completely on par with even the swankiest of private schools.  In fact, my alma mater is often dubbed a “public ivy” by third party college reviewers, and the reason is apparent.  Many students at my former university were accepted into top schools, including the ivy leagues, but decided upon this state school due to its comparatively low price, and equally as progressive and preparatory programs.  This trend only increased as the news of state schools spread, and the economy took a hit.  Even though my school is virtually unheard of outside of New York, the student body is impressive, diverse, motivated, and intelligent — everything one could want in their peers.

This leads me to price; though I couldn't fully appreciate the magnitude of a college tuition upon enrolling, I now see the allure of a state school from the perspective of the financially conscious.  State schools boast tuitions that are only a fraction — about 2/5 — those of private universities.  It's an amazing feeling to know that my college loans are miniscule compared to those taken on by the average college student, and that I did not sacrifice the quality of my education in the process of saving money.  I even had the opportunity to be a Resident Assistant at my university for three years, which rendered my room and board free, and dropped my tuition down to a mere $6,000 a year!  State schools know that their students are financially conscious, and offer wonderful opportunities, like this one, for students to further reduce their education costs while honing transferable skills.

Another amazing aspect of a state school is their comparable willingness to honor Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits.  I know many people who loaded up on such college level courses in high school and aced their exams, only to find that their private university didn't accept the credits.  My state school, by contrast, took 32 of my AP credits, allowing me to start college with sophomore status, proactively fulfill many of my general education requirements, and choose classes with more freedom than the average freshman.

What I also learned at my time at this SUNY is that state schools are not without their share of frills and opportunities.  No, our dorms didn't have rustic charm, bay windows or walk-in closets, nor did our frats and sororities have live-in chefs.  But we did have quaint on-campus coffee shops, a wide selection of dining hall food, and newly constructed, spacious dorms and gyms.  We had every club and organization imaginable, beloved school traditions, free concerts, and other kinds of free on-campus activities every night.  It seemed that the more attention our state school received as being a bargain, the more renovations and updates that occurred.  There was more to do on campus than one person could ever fully take advantage of in four years, making the environment at a state school as rich as one could hope for.

For other high school students who are charmed by picturesque campuses and colleges with a recognizable name, like I once was, be warned: while those schools have undeniable merits, many state schools can hold their own.  As people become more savvy to their worth, and conscious of the price of their education, state schools are becoming more selective, recognizable, and yes, aesthetic.  The job prospects for students coming out of state schools - which is why we go to college in the first place, right?  - are impressive, plentiful, and on par with other, more familiar universities.  As you hunt for your perfect college, the moral is: be open to a variety of schools on your search, and remember that a five-star education and college experience doesn't have to cost a ton. 

Author:
Alissa Gomoka (Alumni)

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