The reason is that in many states, the in-state public universities have become very competitive, and have low acceptance rates even for students who are considered as residents of the state. Many of the most sought after private colleges have also seen dipping admission rates making it imperative for students to have a broader application strategy.
So, how do students apply? And what drives the thought process behind the choices? There are three different strategies that are currently being used by students and families.
1. In-State Public Universities only
Students applying in- state exclusively could be due to a variety reasons such as:
- Preference to be close to home (at least within their state)
- High acceptance rates for resident students at their in-state university campuses
- Guaranteed admission policies
- Efforts to recruit a diverse student population
Usually most states have more than one state university system. In general, when students apply in-state, they usually apply to a selection of flagship and other (satellite) campuses of the multiple in-state university systems.
2. Combination of Public and Private Universities
Applying to a combination of in-state and out of state public universities and private colleges seem to be quite popular with students and their families. Some of the reasons why families choose to apply to a larger selection of colleges are:
- Cost could be a factor, though not in a straightforward manner. The stated cost of attending an out-of-state public university or a private college is more than attending an in-state public universities. The amount of federal aid offered at any institution will be essentially the same as it is determined by family finances. However, merit aid at an out-of-state public university or a private college could change the cost equation to make it comparable (and in some rare cases even cheaper) than an in-state public university. Some of the private colleges may have significant need based institutional aid which can make it an attractive option cost wise.
- Many of the students who apply to a combination of universities are from states where the acceptance rate (even for residents) to the flagship (and other campuses) in-state public universities is very competitive.
- Sometimes students want to explore studying, living and working in a different state!
- Students recruited for college sports.
- Interest in a specific program that is not available at their in-state university system. Or perhaps a higher regarded.
3. Private Colleges Only
Some of the biggest reasons why students apply exclusively to private colleges are:
- A preference for smaller campuses. Usually public universities have campuses with large or even super large student body. Some students may wish to attend small or medium sized campuses which usually is offered by private colleges.
- Students may wish to study at colleges with a specific educational philosophy such as : traditional liberal arts colleges, historically black colleges, religiously affiliated institutions.
- Students and their families prefer private colleges because of legacy reasons.
- Interest in a specific program or working with a particular professor, particular research group.
How should you apply?
Your choice of colleges for application will depend on a host of different factors. Our recommendation is that your starting point should be your "fit", cost and the major(s).
Fit is hard to define and yet it is so important for the continued well being and success of a student. Read our post on fit to get an idea of the factors that go into the elusive "fit".
If cost is an important factor then consider mostly in-state public universities. Also consider out of state public universities where you may get competitive aid offers and private colleges that offer significant merit based aid or have generous need based aid policies. Our merit aid maps can help you with your research. To understand need based aid read our guide to College and Money.
As you look at different majors, look at the kind of colleges that offer those majors. As you research the majors, you can begin looking into colleges that offer the major and any associated programs. You can get started on exploring majors from our home page.
The competitiveness of your state universities can also determine your choices for the search for colleges. If your state is very competitive, then look at the combination of your in-state public universities, out of state public universities and private colleges. Cast a wide net. If your state is less competitive, then mostly look at in-state public universities, unless you would like to explore other states or would like to apply to private colleges.
It may be helpful to keep some of these guidelines in mind as you research and apply to colleges.