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The Smart College Choice Could be Closer Than You Think 

Ohio resident Jade Orazi hadn’t necessarily planned on attending a school in her own backyard. So how did Cleveland State University (CSU) move from a potential “safety” school to her number one choice? With finances tight, she knew that in-state schools were bound to be a better bet when considering how to pick the best college value.

But in addition to affordability, when Jade and her mom Laura visited the CSU, a local college campus, they were blown away by the state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge technology, and the strength of the School of Film & Media Arts where she eventually enrolled. “CSU had both the best pricing and the coolest film school,” Laura says. “Based on the quality of education and the cost, we couldn’t justify any of the other schools we had considered.”

To find a great college value, you don’t have to look far.

She believes this reticence to consider a “hometown school” as a frontrunner is common. “I don’t think families give as much thought to a local college because it just seems so familiar. As an urban campus in downtown Cleveland, CSU is a school we’ve spent our whole lives driving past, but we really didn’t know that much about it.”

Why Look At Local Colleges?

Local schools are increasingly earning the spotlight this year, says CSU’s vice president and dean of admissions, Jonathan Wehner, who has seen a surge in late applications from students who are reacting to the uncertainty of the upcoming fall. “Parents are concerned about the potential for virtual school, and value has become more important than ever.” Some may even be asking, “Is it worth it to go to college?”

But, he says, while families might initially undervalue the flexibility of going to college close to home, the benefits are becoming clearer than ever this year, as the uncertainty of a pandemic wreaks havoc with travel plans.

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Chelsea Mariah Stellmach, admissions advisor at Chicago-based KaiZenith Admissions Consulting, finds that families are looking for ways to mitigate the many unknowns they are facing. One way to do that is to consider what’s closer to home. First and foremost is the reassurance that parents can reach their student if they get sick. But being close by has other advantages. “The need to urgently vacate campus with little warning can take a financial toll,” she says. “While no one likes being told they have three days to move out of their dorms in the middle of a semester, it becomes much more logistically challenging and financially draining when you are 1,000 miles away from home.” Pandemic or not, travel costs are something she says families should always factor into any decision they make when considering colleges.

How to Pick the Best College Value

Wehner is quick to point out that going to college close to home doesn’t have to derail the feeling of going away to school.

“Young people want independence, and while they might think it’s about distance, it’s really more about how parents manage their relationship with their students.” In, fact, he encourages students to consider living on campus, even if they are in commuting distance. “Even one year of the residential experience can be a great investment in building your network and connections on campus.”

With value in mind, CSU has announced a “2-for-1 Tuition Promise,” where any incoming student who successfully completes their first semester with a GPA of 2.75 or better will have their second semester tuition covered by CSU after their financial aid is applied.

“While the initial instinct might have been for students to defer this first year of college, we wanted to encourage them not to put their careers on hold,” Wehner explains. “Families really appreciate the gesture as a way to show how much we value them and understand the tough spot they are in as they consider the question of value.”

Looking for more on affordable college? Try this:

Stellmach points out, “Many families have seen a change in their economic situation, so finding a school that’s the right financial fit is of the utmost importance.”

With all this in mind, it just might be that your college-bound kiddo can find happiness in their own backyard.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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