BY JORI HAMILTON
Graduating high school and heading off to college is an exciting life milestone. But you have myriad choices ahead of you as graduation approaches — what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
While some choose to enroll in a trade school or take a gap year to travel, for about 69 percent of high school grads, a four-year college or university is the logical next step. Once you’ve narrowed down your top choices, however, you still have more decisions to make: Should you apply to an in-state school or one that’s out of state?
Different Types of Higher Learning
As you slog through college applications, you may be overwhelmed by your choices. Furthermore, you might feel pressured to apply to the same school as your best friend, or to your parents’ alma mater. Ultimately, your college choice should be about what’s best for you rather than your loved ones.
If you’re looking for an educational opportunity that focuses on real-world skills rather than academic learning, you may want to consider trade school. Also called vocational schools, trade schools provide hands-on training in a particular field, such as nursing, automotive technology, and cosmetology. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Resource Center, around 9 million people were enrolled in a trade school in 2017.
But that number pales in comparison to the more than 18 million students attending traditional college, in both the private and public sectors.
In-State Benefits and Pitfalls
When it comes to deciding what colleges to apply to, cost is often a major decision factor. No matter if your top school choices are public or private, tuition is much higher if you’re not an in-state resident.
Location is another factor to consider: You may find that the adjustment into freshman year is easier if you’re close to home. And if your first apartment is just a short drive from your parents’ home, you can save money on laundry while checking in from time to time, giving your parents peace of mind. You may also want to stay close to your support system, especially during stressful times like midterms and finals.
Another benefit to attending an in-state school is knowing what you’re getting in to, especially if your top choice in-state school is close to your childhood home. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to visit the campus often and determine if it’s a good fit, and to get to know your way around. You’ll also have firsthand knowledge of what you can expect weather-wise and will likely already have the appropriate clothes for the weather.
Choosing an Out-of-State School
But what if the idea of adventuring into the unknown is just what you’re looking for during your higher-learning journey? In that case, an out-of-state school might be the way to go.
Out-of-state schools tend to be much more expensive, but the additional cost may be worth it if the school is the right fit. Some schools even give an edge to out-of-state students, and data indicates that schools across the U.S. are accepting more students from out of state than ever before.
What’s more, you may be eligible for an out-of-state tuition waiver, or you can take part in a reciprocity agreement program at a school in a neighboring state. The Midwest Student Exchange, the New England Regional Student Program, and the Western Undergraduate Exchange are three of these reciprocity programs.
If you’re making an interstate move for college, you’ll need to plan efficiently and pack only the essentials, such as linens, towels, and local weather-appropriate clothing. As you’ll likely be living in a dorm your freshman year, you won’t have much space to work with, so pack light. You can always pick up dorm essentials from a local shop once you arrive at your out-of-state school.
Cutting College Costs
No matter which school you ultimately attend, there are numerous ways to save money during your college years. Bring as many essentials with you as possible from the outset, whether you’re going to be living in a dorm or your first apartment. And when shopping for household items, including dishware and bedding, don’t overlook thrift shops and second-hand stores, which carry a variety of gently used items at budget-friendly prices.
Eating out is one of the biggest drains of your bank account, no matter what school you’re attending. Financial experts claim that college students spend about $11 billion per year on snacks, beverages, and fast food. Cook at home in your apartment as often as possible in order to cut back on food spending, and consider buying your favorite snacks and drinks in bulk.
While exact figures vary between specific schools, a public, in-state university is your top option if you’re looking to save money on tuition. Enrolling in an in-state school also means that you have more friends and family to rely on if things get stressful.
However, if your dream college is several states away, don’t let distance stop you from achieving your goals. There are many reasons why an out-of-state school might be the best choice for you, from particular educational programs to lower tuition costs thanks to an exchange waiver. It also might be worth it if the company or industry you ultimately want to work for has a strong recruitment presence in a different state.
Ultimately the choice is up to you to decide. After all, finances and affordability are just one of many factors to consider when attending school. When it comes to making the decision on where to attend college, balance is key.
BY JORI HAMILTON
Bio: Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Northwest who is passionate about education and social justice issues. You can follow her on Twitter @HamiltonJori