State School Misconceptions

A large public university is not your only option

Many students and their families believe they must attend a large state school because they can’t afford a private college education. For many of the most talented students, their state’s flagship university is the most desirable of their public options, even though a campus of 30,000 – 50,000 students and large classes may not be the best fit. Because of perceived costs, many of those students never even apply to private colleges like Oglethorpe. We want to change those misconceptions.


Common Misconceptions


Misconception: Why go to a private college like Oglethorpe when my state’s scholarship program makes it nearly free to go to a state school?

When Georgia launched the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship 25 years ago, many other states followed. The programs have largely been successful, but over time, decreased state funding and rising costs have resulted in increases to tuition and fees, and state scholarship programs have not kept pace. Today, increases in cost at many state institutions are reflected in new added fees with names like “academic excellence” or “technology” and even course-specific fees for hundreds of courses. Look closely at many flagship universities and you’ll find significantly higher tuition for courses in business or STEM fields and even a higher tuition rate for your upper-division courses (the ones where professors teach, not TAs). As a result, state-funded scholarship programs no longer cover the full cost of attending a public university. If you do the math, even before the launch of Flagship 50, it was possible to get an Oglethorpe education for nearly the same cost as a state school, whether you major in business, science, or philosophy. With over $24 million awarded in aid each year and some of the lowest rates of student debt in the country, there’s a reason we were chosen as one of only 20 “Best Buy Schools” in the country by the Fiske Guide to Colleges (and the only school in Georgia, public or private, to make the list).

By the way, if you live in Georgia and are awarded HOPE, you can use it at Oglethorpe, too.


Misconception: Good students are guaranteed admission to flagships.

Not even good grades and test scores guarantee admission to a flagship university. Some states’ flagships are aggressively recruiting students from out-of-state while denying admission to increasing numbers of talented in-state students.  Over 40% of flagships have acceptance rates below 60%, including our own and nearby states: Georgia (54%), Alabama (53%), Florida (38%) and North Carolina (27%). Even the most talented students must consider other high-quality options. We want to be sure these students know that price is not a barrier to attending a private university like Oglethorpe.


Misconception: If I want a personalized small-school experience like Oglethorpe at a large public flagship, I can just enroll in the honors program.

Honors programs, if you can get in, do provide some small class interactions and a sense of community within the larger university setting, but they don’t eliminate the large lecture classes with hundreds of students. However, you can’t count on getting in to the honors program if you get into the university. At Georgia, only 586 new students were admitted to their honors program in 2017, and just 614 were accepted to the program at Florida (that’s less than 10% of the class). At Oglethorpe, 100% of our classes are taught by professors, not TAs, the average class size is 17 and the largest class you’ll ever take might have 30 students. And if you want that extra rigor, we, too have an honors program. If you’re looking for that type of experience, don’t let finances get in the way of looking at schools that specialize in just that.


Misconception: Because my state’s flagship university enrolls a lot more people, there’s much greater ethnic, financial and social diversity than at a small, private college like Oglethorpe where everyone is the same.

Oglethorpe looks very different than its private school peers. Our diversity is the cornerstone of who we are. In fact, over half of our students are non-white, a third are the first in their families to attend college, and nearly 2 out of every 5 students qualify for federal Pell grants.

On the contrary, many public flagships today are falling short of representing their state’s populations. The gaps between the number of African-American and Latino students graduating high school and the number enrolled at flagship institutions is widening. In Georgia, that gap is 31%, one of the highest in the nation.

Likewise, many flagships are failing at enrolling low-income students. The U.S. Department of Education reported that all but 3 flagship universities enroll low-income students at a lower rate than the national average of 32.1%. In Georgia, the percentage of low-income students enrolled at its flagship institution is 13.6%. Most flagships in the south enroll similarly low percentages of low-income students. At Oglethorpe, that number is close to 40%. That’s why U.S. News and World Report called us an “overperformer” when it comes to graduating low-income students.