In-state Public Universities
How Affordability Differs by State
Public universities in your state of residence are an essential part of any student's college list. They are supposed to be the affordable option, and a public university should always be your financial safety school on your college list.
Unfortunately for lower-income students, however, financial aid policies aren't consistent between states. In some states, all universities are affordable for low-income students, but in many states some universities, are not always affordable to the low and middle income students that they accept.
Link to state financial aid websites.
The big takeaway:
Your application strategy needs to change depending on the state you live in and the affordability of your in-state public universities!
States where most public universities are affordable for low-income students.
Affordable for High Achieving Students
States where public universities are generally affordable for high achieving students, but not necessarily for any student that is accepted.
States where some most public universities leave a $2-5K annual gap beyond the family's ability to pay (EFC)
States where most public universities are generally not affordable for low-income students
Florida(esp. w/ Bright Futures)
Tennessee(Univ TN Pledge covers costs for families w/ incomes under $40K)
California(CSUs much less affordable than UCs)
South Carolina(Not affordable except for Palmetto Schol recipients)
New York(CUNYs are affordable for commuters. SUNYs will usually leave you with a small gap)
District of Columbia(just has 1 university)
Apply to your regular safety, target, & reach public universities. Be conservative with what you consider to be a target & reach, but feel comfortable that the universities you are accepted to will give you similar financial aid packages and will be affordable.
Know which public universities tend to give better and worse financial aid.
In these states students can usually make it work for the public universities where they are accepted, but not always.
To be safe, follow the application strategy for states where flagship universities are generally not affordable: apply to a back-up financial safety school that is close to home, has your major, and you know you can get accepted.
Also check out our list of Affordable Target Colleges and pick a few affordable private colleges to also apply to.
Go ahead and apply to where you want to attend, but be sure to apply to a safety public university that is within commuting distance as a financial safety option.
Because the universities in these states are often not affordable, getting accepted is no guarantee that you will be able to attend.
E.g. for students in PA:
Temple, Pitt, & PSU (main campus) do not give affordable financial aid. So unless you live within commuting distance, you need to select a regional PSU or University of PA system university that is within commuting distance as your financial safety school.
Many of these states in the Northeast or Midwest have a lot of affordable private options within the state or region. Check out our list of Affordable Target Colleges and pick a few to also apply to.