Private schools are notoriously more expensive than public schools.  However, private schools also tend to offer more financial assistance.  When comparing sticker prices, public college is likely going to come out on top, so it is important to factor the net price into your decision.

The total cost of attendance, or sticker price, is the published cost that you find on the school’s website. This will likely be higher than the amount you actually pay.  The actual cost will be the sticker price minus any financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants. This amount is called the net price.

A good way to estimate college costs can be found on each school’s website in the form of a net price calculator. The calculator factors in your family’s financial information collected on the FAFSA (see our article https://www.seedpg.com/college-planning-financial-aid to understand how this is calculated) to evaluate how much aid you may be eligible to receive.

The net price calculator provides an estimate for one year of school, so we will run an example comparing the cost for the first year of school for community college, public college, and private college.

The data entered into the net price calculators is assuming that the student is:

  • Starting their freshman year

  • Living on campus

  • Attending an in-state college

  • Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a liberal art’s program

  • Is from a family with a household annual income of $115,000

For our comparison we will consider nearby schools – SUNY Broome, Binghamton University, and Syracuse University.

The school’s net price calculators can be found at the following links:

For both SUNY schools – https://www.suny.edu/howmuch/netpricecalculator.xhtml

For Syracuse University – https://npc.collegeboard.org/student/app/syr

From entering in the data above, the calculators generated the following results in the graph above.

From this specific example, we see that two years of community college followed by two years of public college will amount in the lowest cost to receive a bachelor’s degree.  It is also worth noting that the estimated amount of grant / gift aid (financial aid money that does not need to be repaid) offered from the private school is more than 15 times the estimated amount offered at the public school.

Of course, these amounts will be different based on your family’s specific situation, what schools you are comparing, and the financial aid package that is offered to you.  It is important to note that the amount of aid offered for the first year is sometimes greater than the amount offered in the years that follow to entice a student to attend a particular school. Therefore, when choosing a college, you should be fully aware of the total cost of attendance as a worst-case scenario.