Last week I “picked on” the University of Virginia and its non-resident charges. This week I would like to take a look at the College of William & Mary, a school that I visited several years ago before founding this site. William & Mary is a great school. It was on my list 40 years ago. A visit to Williamsburg is always fun for this history buff. Not to mention that it is the second-oldest college in the United States, after Harvard. Back in “my day” growing up in Central New Jersey, the College of William & Mary was on the lists of many bright high school students. It was, and still is, a much smaller school than Rutgers, our state university. It was, and still is, a nice “middle ground” in size between a small liberal arts college and a very big state university.

The College of William & Mary used to be a very good buy for non-residents as well as Virginians. Today, its on the high side. This year Virginians will be asked to pay over $21,000 in tuition and fees before financial aid is considered; non-residents will be asked to pay just over $42,000. The college has made a promise that resident students will pay the same tuition and fees each year for four years. In order to make that happen each freshman class gets hit with a large price increase over the class that entered the year before. The non-residents pay more each year, too.

The College of William & Mary considers itself to be one of America’s “original eight Public Ivies.” It has every right to make that claim; a former Yale admissions professional, Richard Moll, gave it to the school in a book that was published three decades ago. In terms of undergraduate student body size—William & Mary has 6,300 undergraduates—it is closer to an Ivy than any highly-selective state school. It has about the same number as Brown and fewer than either Columbia or Harvard as well as Cornell and Penn. Duke, Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt are also similar in size to William & Mary.

It would be fair to say that the College of William & Mary is a Public Ivy—for Virginians who can get in. While it has a graduate programs in business and education as well as a law school, it is primarily an undergraduate college. That cannot be said of Columbia, Harvard, Penn and Yale where the majority of students are in the graduate and professional schools. William and Mary is primarily a liberal arts school,. It reports that nearly 90 percent of undergraduates earn a degree from its College of Arts and Sciences although the school also has undergraduate programs in business and education.

It would be foolish to presume that every Virginian who applied to William & Mary and an Ivy or a school such as Duke would get a better deal to choose the private school. Even if the average need-based scholarship (also called “gift aid”) equalled full tuition and fees, the majority of awards are not likely to bring the private school’s charges down to the resident charges of the public school. My guess is that William & Mary would be the lower-cost option between 80 and 90 percent of the time. That could also be true for those who are considering William & Mary vs. Richmond or Washington and Lee.

Non-residents who must consider costs, however, might want to look elsewhere. The College of William & Mary not only charges a high price for non-resident tuition and fees; it is also a school that does not usually meet a family’s full financial need.

In 2015, according to its 2015-16 Common Data Set, the college determined that just over 40 percent of the freshmen who applied for need-based financial aid were not determined to have need. Of those who were determined to have need, the college met, on average, 79 percent of need. This included Virginians and non-residents.  It is fair to say however, that the majority of those determined to have no need are more likely to be Virginians; they are already paying a lower price. However, the private schools that are most likely to be shopped against William & Mary are among those that try to meet a family’s full need, residency being a non issue. Duke, as a comparison, determined that 81 percent of their 2015 freshmen who applied for need-based aid were qualified for aid. Duke met 100 percent of need. If costs are an issue for a non-Virginian, s/he might have a chance of paying less to go to Duke, if s/he got in.

William & Mary is a less selective school than Duke. It offered admission to just over a third of those who applied to join last year’s freshman class. Duke accepted fewer than 15 percent of those who want to come. When I look at admissions and financial aid numbers for these two schools, I have to wonder if the non-Virginian who comes to William & Mary is likely to be someone who has the means to pay their way, but did not get into a more selective school such as an Ivy or Duke. For these students the College of William & Mary did not need to be “Duke at a Discount.” But they certainly believed that the school was a Public Ivy. For the nonresidents who qualified for admission but also had need, the college was more likely to have let them down. William & Mary could not be their Public Ivy.

The College of William & Mary can certainly call itself a Public Ivy. It is public and more similar to some private Ivies and their kin than a school such as the University of Virginia or the University of Michigan. However, I still have a tough time calling a school a Public Ivy when it charges nonresidents about as much as they would pay to attend a private one while not being as generous with need-based financial aid.

Need more insights to help you compare schools? Contact me at or call me at 609-406-0062.

2 Comments on “Is the College of William & Mary a ‘Public Ivy’ or ‘Duke At a Discount?’

  1. While out-of-state tuition at $42K seems high, it is still a lot lower than the $65K for a private institution. I’ve done a lot of research over the last several months and state schools are all around that range for out-of-staters.

    • Yes, but when you add room and board as well as indirect charges such as books, supplies and transportation home, the total costs at William & Mary become virtually the same as a private college. Not to mention that there are private colleges that do a much better job of meeting a family’s full financial need.

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