Small red gift box with twine ribbon on dark brown wood table

Public and Private Colleges That Think Outside the Box

There are standard private and public college traits. But how well do schools stay in their lanes? These colleges seem to toe the line between private and public.

We all know the stereotypical “private” and “public” university traits. Private universities tend to have lower student-faculty ratios, higher tuition, more opportunities for scholarships and grants, smaller student populations, and prestigious reputations. On the other hand, public universities are usually characterized by larger student populations, more extensive course catalogs, lower tuition, winning athletic programs, and tons of school spirit. But how well do colleges and universities stay in their classified labels? If the difference between a public and private school is one of the top deciding factors in your college search, consider some of these institutions that seem to cross the boundaries between private and public.  

Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University, a private liberal arts school in Spokane, Washington, has an undergraduate population of just over 5,000 and a student-faculty ratio of 12:1. However, it is home to successful Division I sports teams and is cited by many sources (including CollegeXpress and Business Insider) as one of the most spirited schools—characteristics that are generally more typical of public universities and state schools. Similarly, the University of Notre Dame, a private university with a ticket price of almost $70,000, is one of only 15 universities (public and private) in the US to have all its campus sports participate in NCAA Division I.

Connect me with Gonzaga!

Purdue University

Purdue University, a public university in West Lafayette, Indiana, has a student population of almost 30,000 undergraduates. Its academic programs, though, are often compared to those of Ivy League schools, whose populations usually range from 5,000 to 20,000. The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education have named Purdue one of the top 10 public universities in the United States. While its Division I sports teams and list of over 200 majors seem to fit its categorization as a public university, the prestige that is attached to a degree from Purdue rivals that of a private school, but at a much more affordable tuition price.

Liberty University

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, is another private institution that doesn’t stray too far from typical private school traits: it’s a church-affiliated university that’s very selective (only 24% of students are accepted) with a tuition of over $20,000 for both in-state and out-of-state residents, not including room and board. However, it has an outstanding amount of undergraduate (and graduate) students: their total enrollment exceeds 100,000, almost half of which are undergrads! This number exceeds many public school populations, like the University of Texas at Austin, a huge state school with just over 40,000 undergraduate students. Liberty’s big student body equals a student-faculty ratio of 24:1—on the high side for a private school.

The College of William and Mary

The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, is one of the original “Public Ivies” because it has many private university characteristics but is financially supported by the state. Not only does it have a small student population (over 6,000 undergraduates), it also has a 12:1 student-faculty ratio. In addition, it is extremely selective in admission, with a 36% acceptance rate. Being one of the Public Ivies means it also has a more selective acceptance rate than many other public colleges. 

Clemson University

Clemson University is the kind of college where you don’t need to be needy to get financial aid, one of few public schools with the means to do so. Private universities often have more funds available for merit aid and institutional scholarships, which can offset higher tuition costs. State schools and land grant universities like Clemson are usually inundated with in-state residents, but since these schools collect higher tuition and fees from out-of-state students, student bodies at many public colleges are becoming more and more geographically diverse. This kind of diversity in the student body and academic offerings, through eight schools and myriad research opportunities, is what makes these kinds of colleges toe the line of their academic classifications.

Related: Funding Your Future: Financial Aid at Public Colleges

What factors are most important?

Don’t let the label of “private” or “public” solely determine your college decision. Instead, consider each of the following topics, and look for a university that satisfies your preferences. Each college or university will be different, and each will come with its own mix of characteristics.

  • Student-faculty ratio: Schools with lower student-faculty ratios typically have smaller student populations. Classes may be smaller, and faculty can therefore take more of a hands-on approach, allowing them to get to know their students better and maybe even stay in touch with them after a semester-long class has ended.
  • Academic/extracurricular offerings: Larger public institutions often have the resources and the student populations to offer more extensive and diverse course catalogs, academic programs, and extracurricular activities. This can be helpful if you aren’t sure what you want to major in and want to explore your options—or keep busy after class.
  • Sports: The presence of sports teams and school spirit can make for an exhilarating campus experience and build a type of community among fans. This competitive atmosphere is not for everyone, though.
  • Tuition/financial aid: Public universities sometimes have different tuition prices for in-state vs. out-of-state students. Private universities tend to be more expensive but usually offer more financial aid, including grants and scholarships that don’t need to be paid back. Be sure to compare your financial aid packages to determine which college may be the best choice for you and your family.

Related: The Most Important Factors for Choosing a College

If you take away anything, let it be this: Each and every college and university is unique. Find the one that is the best fit for you, not just the one that ticks the boxes you think it needs to.

For more advice on figuring out if a public school is right for you, explore our Public Colleges and Universities section!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

About Megan Rosta

Megan Rosta is a freshman at Loyola University who loves to read, write, and explore the city in her free time. She eats too much chocolate, aspires to become best friends with the cast of New Girl, and is constantly sleep deprived.

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Maliha

Maliha

High School Class of 2019

My college search began at CollegeXpress. Due to this helpful tool, I was able to gather a lot of information to guide my college planning decisions. Through CollegeXpress, I was also able to apply to several scholarships to help pay for my tuition. I would definitely recommend this website to anyone who wants to explore colleges and get more information from admission experts, counselors, and real students.

Leah Maciel

Leah Maciel

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me with all aspects of applying for college. The website is extremely easy to navigate and gives access to so many resources. I was able to research all of the colleges I was interested in, find out any information I wished to know about, and keep them organized in a list. I've also been able to research scholarships and save them as resources for later. I've used many websites in my college and scholarship search, and CollegeXpress has by far been my favorite one to use.

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

Jeff Parsons

Jeff Parsons

Counselor

Thank you so much for this valuable information about these opportunities. I truly appreciate the CollegeXpress communications and use them to keep my high school seniors informed about their opportunities!

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Seattle University

Seattle, WA