Whether you place much value on the lists that come out ranking colleges each year or not, it's never a bad idea to do your research and be informed when starting your college search. The latest, a ranking of the "100 Best Values in Public Colleges," comes from Kiplinger, which based its conclusions on a combination of academic quality - standardized test scores, retention and graduation rates, student-faculty ratios - and the schools' costs vs. financial aid offerings.
Knowing what the "best deals" are out there, at least according to Kiplinger, may not be bad information to have, especially as tuition costs continue to rise and high school graduates are increasingly looking at college costs and the best bang for their buck when choosing their intended colleges. The list is led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for overall value, and Binghamton University for best out-of-state value. Kiplinger says both those schools offer either the same or more financial aid than they have in previous years, despite a year where schools have looked to raise tuition and cut aid to recoup budget losses, while still delivering impressive academic programs. Other schools that ranked high included the University of Maryland at College Park and the University of Virginia.
Using the magazine's scoring tool, Kiplinger also offers a large amount of data that allows students to make their own assumptions, including in-state vs. out-of-state costs at public institutions and the average financial aid award at any given school. You're also able to search by state or by school to see whether the school you intend to attend is a "good deal." It may not hurt to know whether you're sacrificing quality for cost, or weighing the options of an expensive private college over a less expensive public institution. (Kiplinger also ranks the "Best Value" private colleges with rankings for the top 50 private liberal arts colleges and the top 50 private universities. Pomona College led the liberal arts colleges; the California Institute of Technology led the private universities.)
Remember that it's also important to do your own research when choosing the right school. Consider not only the tuition and fees associated with the school, but whether the colleges you're considering offer the fields of study you may be interested in down the line. Do you want to be close to home, or a little farther away? What kinds of extracurricular activities are you interested in? Are you an athlete, narrowing your choice by a school's sport offerings and athletic scholarships? Weigh the pros and cons of every school you're considering to make the best choice, and when you've narrowed that list down, it may come down to the financial aid each school is offering you.