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Get the Best for Less When You Apply to Colleges

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In this economic climate and with rising costs in education, sometimes it’s good to know there are a few deals out there that STILL allow you to get a great education. Here are some ideas to think about as you start to compile your college list this fall.

Look for tuition-free colleges.

Yes, there are such things! Some colleges actually dedicate their endowments to tuition-free education. One example is Cooper Union, a college for engineering, fine arts, and architecture. Other colleges that have free tuition may require work study or be more bare bones, but that doesn’t mean the education is not good. Check out: College of the Ozarks, Deep Springs College, Curtis Institute of Music, Alice Lloyd College, Olin College of Engineers--, and for this year only, University of California Irvine School of Law is offering free tuition for its 2012 class.

Look for schools that are adapting and changing to make sure its students have the best education.

University of Colorado at Boulder teaches classes in modules. Its computerized feedback system does not allow lecturers to get ahead of the students, and faculty are able to receive updates regularly to follow students’ progress. Evergreen is another progressive school that uses team teaching. It has no set curriculum and no grades, with only written evaluations that go two-ways, students-to-teacher and teacher-to-student. Still 82% of Evergreen grads get full-time employment while 93% are accepted to graduate schools. Finally, look at Arizona State. It’s done away with academic departments so interdisciplinary study can take place. Colleges experimenting with curriculum and structure can provide a great opportunity for your money.

Look for tuition promise schools.

These schools promise the incoming first-year class their fees and tuition will not increase during their four years. One such school is Western Oregon University. With few administrators, no star faculty, and no research, Western is dedicated to undergraduate education. Texas also has a pre-paid plan that locks in college costs at its state colleges and universities.

If you look at research universities, make sure they have good undergraduate connections and educational practice.

Many large institutions that have grant money for research put their concentration on faculty that will research, not teach, and put their money into graduate degree programs. However, there are research universities that still do a good job with undergraduate education. If they have high student-faculty contact, courses are not lecture but practice learning with writing and application, and if there are active projects, chances are better their undergraduate education is worth what you are paying in tuition fees. One such school is the University of Maryland – Baltimore County.

Look for schools that are known to put education first at a good price.

Notre Dame has continued its tradition and not gone with fads. It still has a 13 to 1 faculty-student ratio, and less than 10% of its classes are taught by graduate assistants. Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) has raised its academic standards, tripled its African American population, and has an excellent Honors College. Military academies offer a great education with full-scholarships while the University of North Carolina is known for meeting 100% of students’ need with loans, grants, and work study. Other colleges meeting 95% of students’ needs are Michigan State University, Colorado School of Mines, Iowa Sate University of Science and Technology, and State University of New York College of Science and Forestry.

Think about two-year colleges.

You pay a tenth the costs at a community college or two-year school. If you use that savings over two years and then finish your last two years at a liberal arts college, you have saved. And, you have had a chance to learn to study, perhaps work part-time, get remediation if necessary, and you are better able to define your educational goals. At the same time many two-year schools have great education and preparation for four-year schools. Raritan Valley Community College, for example, never has a class sized over 40 and most of its classes are seminar size. The classes are taught by well-prepared adjunct faculty in teams, and the curriculum is compatible with most four-year institutions.

You can be smart and earn entrance to the best and most expensive colleges in the nation, or you can be SMART and save money while still getting a better-than-average education. Imagine what your conversation will be with yourself your senior year when you are debt-free, and the world’s possibilities are ALL open to you.