Five City Schools That Rule at Offering ‘Bang for the Buck'

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributer *

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Parents and students frequently tell their college advisors that they really like a particular school, but admissions may be too difficult, or the costs beyond their budget. In these situations, a college advisor’s job is to identify similar schools where admissions may be more achievable and/or costs may be more affordable. With diligent research, it’s entirely possible to build a list of colleges that offer similar educational opportunities, but also more “bang for the buck.”

Great universities in great college towns—at better prices

Let’s start with schools in popular college towns, such as Boston or New York. Neither city has a residential public university where most students are part of a campus community. The most desired schools, including Boston University, Northeastern University, and NYU, while quite good, are also quite selective, and quite expensive. 

However, you can get everything you would get at these schools at the University of Pittsburgh, aka ‘Pitt’ in a less-expensive package—over $20,000 less—in a student-friendly neighborhood. Not only is Pitt less expensive, it has about the same number of undergrads as Boston University, and some very similar dual degree options. Pitt shares the city with several other colleges, including Duquesne and Carnegie Mellon, but the competition for internships and jobs will be nothing like it is in Boston or New York. Pittsburgh is also one of the few college towns that also has successful teams in major league sports—the Penguins and Steelers are consistent winners, and is one of our country’s leading cultural centers. The campus borders Schenley Park, one of the largest, and nicest city parks you will find. An added bonus: Pitt students may get into local museums, ride local public transportation for free by showing their student ID, and get Penguins and Pirates tickets for select nights for significant student discounts.

Second place behind Pitt, among schools that I’ve visited: The Ohio State University in Columbus. The largest city in Ohio, and the third largest in the Midwest, after Chicago and Indianapolis, Columbus is a state capital, a major business center, a major cultural and social center, and a sports paradise. Being the dominant university in town, Ohio State students face less competition for jobs and internships than they would in Chicago, among other larger cities. Ohio State students not only pay less than even Pitt students; they can also ride the local public transportation system for free, just by presenting a student ID. An added bonus, while Ohio State has many more undergrads than Pitt, it is also one of the best buys for residents and non-residents alike. Non-residents pay less for their total cost of attendance—tuition and fees, room and board, and incidentals such as transportation and books—than they would pay in tuition and fees alone to enroll at sports rival Michigan!

Third place, only because of selectivity and more specialized academics, is Georgia Tech, one of the very best schools to study architecture, business, engineering and the sciences. Like Columbus, Atlanta is also the capital and major business, entertainment and media center in its home state—and it’s often called the “economic capital of the South.” But while Georgia Tech offered admission to just over 40 percent of those who applied four years ago, the acceptance rate to join the incoming class dropped to 22 percent! Georgia Tech operates the largest voluntary cooperative education program, where students alternate between full-time school and full-time work, among larger schools, and its graduates earn some of the higher salaries for their first jobs after college. Often cross-shopped against schools like Cal Tech, MIT, and the Ivies, Georgia Tech is a best buy for over $20,000 less. An added bonus: because the school was a venue for the 1996 Olympics, the main student recreation center is one of the best around. 

Bang for the buck in our nation’s capital

Next, Washington DC, our nation’s capital is one of the most sought-after locations for college-bound students, and one of the most desired for internships and jobs. American University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University, again all great schools, are becoming increasingly selective, and are quite expensive. 

But Howard University, the nation’s largest, and most academically diverse private Historically Black University, charges lower tuition and fees than non-residents pay to attend many popular state universities, and offers extremely generous scholarships to its most qualified students. Howard is also home to the alpha chapters for five of the ‘Divine Nine’ African American Greek social fraternities and sororities. The university’s alumni, including actor Chadwick Boseman, author Toni Morrison, and the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, among many others, are among the most accomplished anywhere. 

The University of Maryland-College Park, about a 40-minute ride into DC via Metro Rail, is also a “best buy” that offers more academic choices than the more selective, and more expensive, private universities in the city, and similar access to the same internships and jobs. A member of the Big Ten, like Ohio State, Maryland also has the highest profile college sports program in the DC area. The Maryland Terrapins, the only college teams, named for a turtle, represent the only university in our country that has won NCAA national championships in football, lacrosse and men’s and women’s basketball. 

These are not the only five schools that will deliver value as well as a quality education, but they are among the best that you will find in cities where students enjoy life during their college years as well as thereafter. 


* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.