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Private vs. Public Universities

October 15th, 2010

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Choosing a college is a major decision, and one big factor in that decision is choosing between attending a public or private college. Here we’ll talk a little about the difference between public and private institutions and some of the factors that could further influence your decision.

Public colleges and universities are largely supported by state funds. You may have heard on the news recently how many public university systems have had to raise tuition significantly because state legislatures have slashed higher education funding to balance their budgets as the recession continues. Private universities, however, are funded through tuition, endowments and donations from alumni and other supporters of the school, and are not as affected by state budgets. As a result, tuition is usually significantly higher at private universities than at public universities.

Many students make their choice based on cost alone. The thought process goes like this: public colleges cost a lot, but private colleges cost more, so I suppose I’ll have to choose a public college. This shouldn’t be the primary factor in your decision. After all, plenty of private colleges offer far more generous financial aid and scholarship packages to students than public colleges, especially for students who can demonstrate financial need or who are especially gifted academically.

Aside from cost, a primary consideration should be the quality of the department that houses the major you wish to pursue. For instance, gifted students who want to study journalism may want to apply to the University of Missouri (Mizzou), a public research college renowned for its School of Journalism, as well as apply to a private research college like Columbia University, also renowned for its journalism department.

Private colleges, particularly small liberal arts colleges, have a reputation for being very selective and for having smaller classes where students enjoy more quality interaction with their professors. Public universities, particularly major flagship campuses, have a reputation for being crowded, having huge freshman classes where intro courses are taught in teaching theatres that easily seat hundreds of students. But this doesn’t mean you can’t find a selective public college with small class sizes. It also doesn’t mean that you won’t feel lost or like a number at some private colleges. Make this determination by comparing the student-to-faculty ratios at the private and public colleges on your radar.

In conclusion, when deciding between public and private colleges, it’s more important to look at the whole package, including the school’s reputation and quality, size and location, religious affiliation, and availability of extracurricular activities. Don’t let the sticker price be the only factor in your decision.

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