In the process of paring down your list of prospective colleges to attend, one aspect you may consider is whether you’d prefer a public or private college. Public colleges exist largely on state funds and thus adhere to guidelines determined by the state and federal government. Private colleges are funded by donors and tuition, so they can pretty much operate however they see fit provided they keep their accreditation. The differences between the two at the top result in a different experience for the students.
Private colleges, like private schools at any level, have long been associated with students who have money because of the high costs of tuition. According to the College Board, on average, they charge $27,293 per year in tuition and fees; almost four times the $7,605 per year average that in-state public colleges charge. Fortunately, some of these institutions offer generous financial aid packages using their abundant resources. Even still, given the country’s recent economic woes, many students from middle class families simply can’t afford to pony up the kind of money they’d need to stay enrolled in private colleges for four or five years. Consequently, the value offered by public colleges is often too enticing to pass up.
But if money isn’t a major issue, then you should consider which type of school best fits your social and academic needs. Private colleges are usually smaller — fewer than 10,000 students — and while many are composed of diverse ranges of students from different backgrounds, many consider their best feature to be their ability to bring people together from similar backgrounds, enhancing the overall college experience. For example, private Catholic and Baptist colleges enable students to learn with a hint of faith. Women’s colleges can resemble oversize sororities. Military colleges add discipline to college life. Public colleges are more egalitarian in that they encourage student diversity. The demographics and culture of one typically reflects the demographics and culture of the state it serves.
The quality of education offered by a prospective college is the most important factor in your decision. Some of the top colleges in the nation — such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Stanford — are private, but only a select few students gain admission into those schools. A common advantage of almost all private colleges is the small student bodies and small student-to-faculty ratios, so class sizes are modest and students can interact with their professors regularly. Although the largest colleges in the nation are public — Arizona State University has more than 75,000 students — there are also numerous smaller public colleges that offer a private college feel. Ultimately, the distinction of private versus public signifies differences that could determine whether or not you think you’re fit to attend a certain college.