Public or Private College? Weigh the Pros & Cons

At the end of the day, it’s wise to determine your main priorities and examine all schools you’re interested in, public and private, to see which best match what you’re looking for in your college experience.

Elizabeth Hoyt

May 17, 2016

Public or Private College? Weigh the Pros & Cons

Within any student’s college search, he or she must make a lot of choices to narrow down which schools are best suited to budget, academics, lifestyle and a variety of other factors.

One method to quickly narrow down your options is to determine whether you should be looking into a public or private university.

Certainly, each option has aspects that are beneficial or lack thereof, but the application of these aspects (in terms of being positive or negative) largely depends on you, as a student.

We’ve outlined some of the common factors to consider within each type of school to help you determine which type of school may be right for you.

Tuition Costs:

Public Colleges & Universities

Since they receive public funding, public colleges and universities, generally speaking, tend to have lower tuition rates. Additionally, these colleges and universities also offer scholarships and financial aid so it’s important to determine what you may qualify for financially before making that final decision.

Private Colleges & Universities

While the majority of private colleges and universities tend to have higher sticker prices, it’s important to remember that they often offer more in terms of financial aid and scholarships. So, this con isn’t always as clear cut as you may think. Take the sticker price with a grain of salt and, before deciding against a college or university solely on tuition, find out how much you’d actually be paying after qualifying for scholarships and aid.

Diversity:

Public Colleges & Universities

Public universities typically attract students from diverse backgrounds since they generally offer more options in terms of major varieties. They’re also less expensive, especially for in-state students, so you’ll likely encounter students from all different backgrounds.

Private Colleges & Universities
Private colleges and universities tend to have students from diverse backgrounds, but that’s usually geographically speaking. They’re definitely great spots to meet students from all over the country, but tend to have fewer options in terms of the variety of majors they offer since they’re often a little more specialized academically.

Student Life on Campus:

Public Colleges & Universities

Public colleges, as a rule, are larger in scale and in terms of students, so there’s usually a lot more going on campus in any given day than at some smaller schools. You’ll have plenty of options for different clubs, activities and student involvement – but private schools have these, too – just on a smaller scale.

Public universities are a great choice for students looking to be a part of a huge student body that has aspects that are social, athletic and, of course, academically speaking. A public school may be right for you if you’re not bothered by larger size lecture courses, love going to support the college’s athletic teams and need a large variety of social options (and students) to choose from.

Private Colleges & Universities
Public colleges and universities tend to have fewer activities and clubs – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have the options you’re into. Plus, most schools will allow students with similar interests to create their own social groups, so that can easily be remedied.

If you desire smaller course sizes and faculty-to-student-ratios from the get-go uncommon (a lot of public colleges have these options once you’re further into your major program) or have a very specific major program in mind that’s unique or specialized, then a private college may be a good option to consider.

Quality of Education / Value:

Public Colleges & Universities
Generally speaking, public schools can offer more for your money. It’s important to take all of these factors into consideration, public or private, to determine the quality of faculty, graduation rates and prestige. Remember, lower tuition does not indicate a lower quality education.

Private Colleges & Universities
If prestige is at the top of your list, consider the fact that the first 19 institutions are private on the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings. That being said, there are wonderful schools within both categories.

So, Which is Type of School is “Better?”

There’s no “better” school – it’s just a “better” school in terms of your needs. A public or private label isn’t absolute in terms of better or worse but can help you narrow down your search in terms of your desired campus size, diversity and cultural aspects, tuition prices and academic majors and specialties.

At the end of the day, it’s wise to determine your main priorities and examine all schools you’re interested in, public and private, to see which best match what you’re looking for in your college experience. Your best bet is to consider both options and look into more specific factors, rather than ruling out one type of school over the other.

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