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Private vs. Public: Which Is Right for You?

Deciding which college or university to attend is difficult, but a good place to start narrowing down your choices is with one question: public or private?

College admission decisions are starting to roll in, and students are left with a big decision: which school is right for you? Depending on your college list, you may be wondering if a private or public university would fit you best. Here are a few things you should consider before making your final college choice. 

infographic comparing public and private universities

Tuition

According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees for a four-year public university were $10,230 for in-state residents and $26,290 for out-of-state students during the 2018–2019 school year. To attend a private school, the average cost was $35,830.

The difference is due to funding. Public universities are funded by taxes paid to their respective state governments. Because state residencies are funding higher education, students have more of an incentive to attend college in their home state. However, private universities don’t receive any government funding and can either be nonprofit or for-profit institutions. Rates may vary depending on how much it costs to run the school.

No matter where you choose to attend, scholarships and other financial aid can help you pay for college.

Related: The Experts’ Choice: Colleges That Are Great Values

Class size

Because public schools tend to have cheaper “sticker prices” than their private school counterparts, they typically have higher rates of admission with tens of thousands of students attending. On the other hand, many private universities have student bodies of less than a thousand. At a public school, you may feel lost in a sea of people whereas at a private university, you’ll have a better change of receiving more individualized instruction.

Before choosing, ask yourself:

  • Do I learn best independently or with close contact with a professor?
  • Can I learn in discussion-based classes?
  • Will large classes be overwhelming?

Related: Comparing Public Colleges: Big vs. Small Schools

Academic opportunities

Class sizes might be bigger at public universities, but there will also be more academic choices available. The variety of majors, minors, courses, and degrees are typically more diverse at public schools than at private ones. Due to government funding, public universities tend to have better research facilities as well.

However, if you know what you’d like to study (especially if you want to continue on to a doctoral or graduate program), a private institution may offer you a more specialized learning experience, and you’re more likely to get one-on-one mentoring within your specific field.

Before choosing public vs. private, ask yourself:

  • Is my major available at a private university?
  • Do I want to customize my field of study?
  • Which is more important: innovative facilities or direct contact with faculty?

Graduation rates

According to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, 48.3% of students at private nonprofit universities earned degrees within four years, whereas 35% of students at public universities graduated on time.

Campus life

At a public school, campus life tends to be more energetic and spirited. You’ll find a greater range of extracurricular activities, like competitive sports teams, Greek life, or career-focused clubs. At private colleges, you’ll still have access to clubs, but the atmosphere may be a little quieter. The focus is more likely to be on academics than community and social events.

Before choosing, ask yourself:

  • What type of college experience do I want?
  • Do I thrive when surrounded by people?

Related: Video: Get Involved: Get Ideas for Clubs to Join!

Final thoughts

When deciding between a public or private university, there is a lot to consider. The characteristics laid out here were generalizations: there are some large private universities and small public ones; you’ll discover small schools that have tons of school spirit, and you can find individual attention and professors who care at big schools too. Not all schools stick to the conceived notions of “public” and “private.” Ultimately, whichever college you choose should come down to what characteristics you prefer and where you believe you’ll be able to thrive.

Use our College Search tool to find out which public or private colleges are best for you.

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Tags:
college decisions colleges and universities private schools public schools

About Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger

Lindsey Conger is a college counselor and tutor at Moon Prep.

 

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