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Want the Small-College Experience Without the Big Price Tag? Read This

Students attend advanced Spanish classes at New College of Florida in Sarasota, Florida. Photo courtesy of Chip Litherland

A lot of factors go into deciding which college is right for you.

While the financial aspect is hugely important in the decision-making process, there are other things to consider as well — one of them being size.

A huge college or university can give you that “big college experience,” but a smaller school can provide intimate class sizes and a more focused education.

If you’re just not into the idea of painting your face for football games or sitting in a lecture hall with 399 other students, a small college experience might be for you.

Unfortunately, the small college experience isn’t all that cheap.

Because these schools have fewer students paying tuition, they often have to jack up their prices to compensate, leaving the students who do attend paying the price for those smaller classes and that feeling of a tight-knit community.

In fact, Student Loan Hero reports that Peterson’s, an educational data firm, found on average, small colleges cost as much as $5,470 more in tuition and fees than the average costs across all colleges in 2016.

Over the course of a four-year degree, that could tack an extra $21,880 onto your student loans, which is no small sum.

The good news is there are a few small schools that don’t cost an (extra) arm and leg to attend.

20 Small But Cheap Colleges in the U.S.

Student Loan Hero looked at 626 colleges with graduating classes of 500 students or fewer to put together a list of the 20 most affordable small colleges in the U.S.

Seventeen of these schools are state or local public colleges, while three of the 20 schools have tuition-free initiatives that mean you could receive a college education for $0 between your work-study job, scholarships and grants.

It’s important to note that the numbers on this list are based on in-state tuition, and will be different for out-of-state students.

Also, seven of the 20 cheapest small colleges are located in Oklahoma, which isn’t really all that surprising. But I leave it up to you to decide whether “move to Oklahoma” goes on the “pro” or “con” side of your list.

The choice is up to you — all I can do is help relay the info from Student Loan Hero. So without further ado (I promise), these are the 20 cheapest small colleges in the U.S. right now, along with the annual tuition and fees. (Keep in mind that the average annual cost of in-state tuition and fees across all public four-year colleges is $9,410. For out-of-state colleges, that figure jumps to $23,890. OK, that’s the real end of the “ado.”)

  1. College of the Ozarks, Missouri: $403
  2. Berea College, Kentucky: $570
  3. Alice Lloyd College, Kentucky: $2,050
  4. College of Coastal Georgia, Georgia: $4,434
  5. Dixie State University, Utah: $5,022
  6. Dickinson State University, North Dakota: $5,339
  7. New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico: $5,550
  8. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, North Carolina: $5,816
  9. Cameron University, Oklahoma: $5,970
  10. Emporia State University, Kansas: $6,178
  11. Northeastern State University, Oklahoma: $6,207
  12. University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, Oklahoma: $6,270
  13. East Central University, Oklahoma: $6,279
  14. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma: $6,450
  15. Southern Utah University, Utah: $6,530
  16. Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma: $6,690
  17. York College, New York: $6,747
  18. New College of Florida, Florida: $6,916
  19. Rogers State University, Oklahoma: $7,000
  20. The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Texas, $7,060

Find the College That’s Right for You

Whether you decide to go big or to take advantage of that small college feeling, there are a lot of things that will go into your college decision-making process.

First, make sure to check into schools within your state. Most schools are significantly cheaper for in-state students than those coming in from another state.

Also, consider attending a community college for the first two years of your degree. They’re significantly cheaper than most four-year colleges, and you’ll save a significant amount of money by attending a community college for the first two years before transferring for years three and four.

Then, do the math when your financial aid letters begin to arrive. Make sure you know the different terms discussed in each letter and understand exactly how much you’ll receive. If you need help deciphering the terms and offers, don’t be afraid to call the school’s financial aid office to get answers.

Keep in mind that not all aid is the same, and while one school may seem to offer the most financial aid at first glance, it could be due to tricky wording; some schools include any loans you qualify for in their “aid” packages.

If you do end up needing to take out loans, make sure you know everything there is to know about taking on loans and paying them off.

The best strategy for graduating with as little debt as possible? Be informed.

Do your research, know your numbers and be sure to look at all of the options before you make your final decision.

Grace Schweizer is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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