The next two articles will focus on the 13 Massachusetts state colleges and universities. For many students, these colleges are an excellent financial bargain. Some of the colleges are good, some are mediocre, and some are bad. On occasion, students say that they are going to a state school, implying that they are all the same. They are not all the same, not by a long shot. The individual differences are significant and will be discussed next week.

Before we dive into the analysis, it should be noted that state schools provide access to college for a very reasonable cost. The average total cost for the nine state colleges is approximately $25,000 a year (in-state). For the four University of Massachusetts schools, it is a little higher at a $28,000 average.

It is a mystery to me as to why Massachusetts parents would pay $52,000 a year (out-of-state rate) for their student to attend an out-of-state college like the University of Connecticut. Some students have said that tuition rate will change when they become in-state residents. Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain in-state residency in that state in order to secure the lower tuition rate.

There is often a desire for the students to “get out of the state.” From my vantage point, if a student is in a college that is two hours away from home, they could just as easily be eight hours away from home. While the students should go to the best school for them, there are frequently better choices for the same net cost with most private schools.

First, let’s talk about getting accepted into a state school. While all of the state colleges cost about the same ($25K per year), not all schools are created equal. Some of the schools are undiscovered gems (Westfield State University, Massachusetts Maritime Academy), and some have a top-notch department within the school (Worcester State University–Health Professions). Those schools with a good overall reputation (University of Massachusetts Amherst) or with an excellent department (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth–Engineering) have more competition. A parent should not assume that all state schools are the same in admissions.

Also, many of the schools (nine of 13) have four-year graduation rate of less than 40 percent. One is substantially below the statewide graduation average (University of Massachusetts Boston–17 percent) and therefore one must be careful when selecting a school and the major.

There are many considerations that need to be understood if people are applying to a state school. The admissions standards for the Massachusetts state colleges emphasize a strong academic high school background so that students enter college ready to learn. The minimum standards were recently upgraded and readers should understand that meeting them does not guarantee admission. Admissions officers consider a wide range of factors in their decisions. Some state schools and many popular majors at some schools often have more stringent admission criteria than the minimums noted below.

Also, there is much more to an application than just the student’s grades and standardized test results. There is the essay, participation and leadership in clubs, sports, activities, work, letters of recommendation, and levels of class workload. In the end, all of these factors are considered.

What are the minimum admission requirements at a state college?

First, the state schools use a sliding scale for grade point average and SAT/ACT considerations. That means the higher the GPA is, the lower the SAT/ACT score can be (and vice versa). If you have a GPA of 3.0 in “academic” subjects, then your SAT/ACT scores become less of a concern. If you have a GPA below 3.0, then you must have an SAT math and verbal combined score of at least 920. The lower your GPA, the higher the combined SAT scores must be. In fact, did you know that no Massachusetts university will admit a student with a GPA below 2.0?

The GPA is calculated at the time of application (fall of senior year), and the schools use only academic subjects when calculating the admission GPA. If you apply in December, that means only the first-quarter grades from your senior year will be considered. If you are on the sliding scale edge, perhaps you want to wait to file your application until the end of the second quarter, in January.

Most of the state colleges have application deadlines. If a major is not filled by that time (for example, March 1), then applications continue on a rolling admissions basis. Rolling admissions means that candidates continue to be accepted until the major is filled. It must be noted that popular majors, like nursing, can fill up by December!

One last note: students should not get discouraged if their GPA or SAT scores fall below the sliding scale, as “alternative admission” is a possibility at three state schools—Westfield, UMass Dartmouth, and UMass Salem. Alternative admissions are for students who have extenuating circumstances for missing the sliding scale cutoffs. The enrollment limits fill up early and interviews are required.

Tip of the Day: Visit your high school’s Naviance website to find out what GPA was needed by previous graduates for admission at a particular school.

Mr. Zorski was in business for 23 years and has been in education for 22 years. E-mail questions to

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