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Public Colleges and Universities: The Right Fit for You

As a high school student, you probably have information from colleges and universities waiting in your mailbox every day. Yet, with approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States--and it may seem like every one of them has contacted you already--it can be hard to figure out which school is the perfect one for you.

As a high school student, you probably have information from colleges and universities waiting in your mailbox every day. Whether in a deluge of e-mails or a truckload of glossy brochures, institutions want you to know they might be the perfect match for your collegiate experience.

Yet, with approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States—and it may seem like every one of them has contacted you already—it can be hard to figure out which school is the perfect one for you.

Why go public?

College is a time for young people to discover and explore the things that excite them. It’s their opportunity to try new stuff, think new thoughts, and reexamine old ideas. Many students view college as a vehicle to their dream job, and to be sure, laying a career’s foundation is important. But considering the flexibility required by the modern job market, it might be helpful to think about college as the place to learn how to think critically, communicate effectively, and solve problems successfully—skills that will always be required in our changing world. And life is a lot more than just work, right? College is a place for students to continue developing the social and life skills necessary to be the kind of person they want to be when they “grow up.”

Because public colleges offer students a tremendous array of learning opportunities, challenges, and social engagements, they are an ideal place for students to prepare for the 21st century—at an affordable cost. Large schools expose students to a breathtaking number of academic choices, student organizations, study abroad options, and opportunities to serve and volunteer. Because public universities attract students and faculty with diverse interests and skills, these campuses give students the chance to customize their college experience.

Immersion into a diverse culture

For many students, college will be the first time they encounter a wide array of classmates who differ from them culturally, experientially, linguistically, and religiously. Exposure to these differences broadens their understanding of the world. These experiences not only benefit students’ ability to make the most of what they are learning in their classes, but can also prepare them to interact with the diverse group of people who will one day be their neighbors and coworkers.

Research facilities

Public universities are often home to state-of-the-art research centers, laboratories, and teaching hospitals. These research opportunities attract some of the brightest and most accomplished faculty in the world. In 2010, 68% of the Carnegie Classification of Universities with “very high research activity” were public schools. This means students at public universities are likely to learn from faculty at the cutting-edge of their field. Undergraduate research not only enhances a student’s understanding of the field, but can be a springboard to future opportunities in graduate school or the workforce.

More to do

In general, public universities enroll more students than other types of institutions. A larger pool of students means a broader array of interests. Many public universities have hundreds of formalized organizations, service groups, honor societies, and clubs. Students can try out everything from ballroom dance to Habitat for Humanity to political activism.

In one day on a public college campus, a student might attend class, participate in a computer gaming tournament,
watch an African drumming perfor-mance, and cheer at a Division I volleyball game. These activities contribute to a student’s overall collegiate experience and his or her development as a well-rounded person.


At public schools, you’ll get all the academic and extracurricular opportunities described thus far, and you’ll pay less to do them. Public universities often have lower tuition because they receive some funding from their states, but lower cost doesn’t mean less valuable. Instead, some of the cost of your education is already subsidized by sources other than your own wallet. It means you are taking advantage of funding in your state that has been set aside for the education of its residents. In the long term, graduating with less debt may provide greater freedom to choose the next step you really want to take.

The right fit

As you go through the college search process, keep in mind that choosing a public institution means you will be keeping your options open. If you are the kind of person who wants to try out different things, meet lots of new people, and keep the costs in check while you are doing it, a public institution may just be the right fit for you!

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