My younger brother just received his acceptance letter from the University of Southern California (USC), his number one choice and the only private university out of the five schools he applied to. Hearing back from colleges was once an exciting time of year for high school seniors, but now the thrill of getting into their dream school is being overshadowed by the hefty price tag that accompanies the next four years of education. With the economy now in a notorious downslide, 85 percent of students say that financial aid will be ‘very’ or ‘extremely necessary,’ according to the ‘2009 College Hopes and Worries Survey’ conducted by the Princeton Review. Many college-bound students are opting to attend lower-priced public universities in favor of expensive private schools, with my brother, who has already sent in his statement of intent to USC, being the rare exception.’ Although I now happily attend a state school, I spent my first year of college as a DePaul University Blue Demon. The estimated cost of attendance was around $35,000 for the 2006-2007 school year. Three generous scholarships, contributions from both my parents and a sizeable student loan covered my tuition, but I was on my own for living expenses, food, books and warm clothes to get me through my first Chicago winter. I found a part-time job at a stationery company and was having a ball until I tried to withdraw $20 from my bank account and the ATM ate my card. I picked up a second part-time job as a cashier at a CVS Pharmacy and struggled through the rest of the year just to afford groceries. I finally admitted defeat near the end of winter quarter, and accepted a place for the following year here at CSUN where I pay next to nothing for an education that would have put me into debt for the next several years of my life if I had stayed at DePaul. Before I left DePaul, my roommates and I discussed in great detail whether having a degree from a private university would really give people a better shot at success in the long run. While one of my roommates argued that they provide name recognition and therefore a higher likelihood of being offered a job after graduation, I think some public schools are just as prestigious as private universities. The University of California, Berkeley, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor are public schools known for their quality academics and affordable tuition for in-state residents, according to the Princeton Review. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to live in a state with a high-ranking public university system, will prospective employers really punish you for not being able to afford a private school education, especially considering the current state of the economy? If anything, I would say that attending a private university would put you at a disadvantage later in life. According to the College Board, a four-year private school now averages at around $25,000 a year for just tuition and fees, while a four-year public school will cost less than $7,000. After graduating from a private university, a student could potentially be in debt by over $100,000, with entry-level salaries usually starting around $30,000 depending on your major, according to a CNN report by Rachel Zupek. Additionally, I’ve noticed that when students choose to attend public universities, they often live at home to defray the extra expense of renting an apartment or living on campus. Many universities are actually eliminating Friday classes to help ease the commute for both professors and students, which helps to reduce transportation costs and allows students to work more hours at a part-time job if needed. Why would an 18-year-old want to take out loans so early in life if food, shelter and an education are readily available at a much lower cost? I don’t believe a private university education is necessarily a bad thing. With financial aid and scholarships, it can sometimes be more affordable than public schools. Some universities are even planning to increase next year’s funds for financial aid, including USC, who says its budget is expected to increase by eight percent to help ease prospective students’ economic concerns, according to a news release by USC. For the majority of other college-bound students this year though, what it really comes down to is weighing the options and considering the costs of obtaining a degree. One year of college at a private university, even with scholarships and financial aid, left me with no money in my bank account and a big fat student loan to pay back once I graduate. Maybe if my education at DePaul had been completely subsidized, as my education at CSUN essentially is, I would have chosen to stay. But I had my future to think about and decided that being debt-free for the rest of my adult life was more important than having fun for four years and getting a degree from a private university. I want to have the freedom to follow a career path that I am passionate about and not be restricted to choosing jobs offering a high enough salary to pay back the creditors who will hunt me down after graduation. In the end, that’s what college is really about ‘- preparing you for the best possible future, one where student loans won’t deter you from taking the job you love.