I know it’s early, but as you look at colleges, try to think a great deal about whether graduate school is in your future. If you know whether you’re likely or unlikely to attend graduate school, this may impact your cost/benefit analysis when it comes to choosing between a public school or a private one.
If you’re fairly certain that graduate school is in your future, a private education may not be worth the significantly higher cost. Keep in mind that over the course of your career, the graduate school one attends will be more important than their undergraduate institution. If you plan on attending graduate school, it may be wise to pursue a cheaper undergraduate degree.
Of course, no advice will apply to every applicant, so be sure to evaluate your financial situation when deciding whether a private education is worthwhile.
If you’re fairly certain that graduate school is not in your future, the reputation of your undergraduate institution will matter much more.
While considering these costs, I encourage you to keep in mind this concept of Return on Investment. A brand name (think Harvard) is probably worth the money if you can afford it. However, it’s possible that a less prestigious private school may be better substituted by a well-known, yet far more affordable, public school. This is especially the case if you can maintain a high GPA and use that to gain acceptance into a prestigious graduate program.