It’s summer, and the class of 2020 is starting the daunting process of building their college lists. One question will inevitably cross every applicant’s mind: Private universities and public universities - which is better? Short answer: it depends. As a current undergraduate at a private university, I had to ask myself the same question a year ago. Here’s what I found out.
The most significant difference between public and private schools is their price tag, primarily for in-state students. If you’re a resident in the state of the university, your tuition at full price will be dramatically lower than if you were to attend a private university. This is because public schools are funded by the government through the state’s taxpayers. On the other hand, private universities only receive funding through donors, which means students must cover the full cost of attendance.
The average tuition cost at private universities for one year is $34,740 while the average public school tuition for an in-state student is $9,970. For out-of-state residents attending public universities, the average tuition is $25,620.
Point is, private schools will be significantly more expensive, and that was by far the largest consideration for my family. Ultimately, my personal preferences ultimately lined up with a private school education, and I was lucky that my parents were willing and able to afford it.
A lot of what you’re paying for at a private university is closer relationships with professors which can translate to more opportunities. At private schools, class sizes are significantly smaller, with most classes averaging under 30 students, allowing for personal connections with the professor and increased discussion opportunities. On the other hand, most public school classes are in auditoriums seating hundreds of students. It’s important to evaluate what kind of learning style you thrive under. I know from high school that intimate discussions with my peers and my professor are how I best absorb knowledge, and I am not independent enough to learn through a lecture-style curriculum.
Public universities tend to have a much wider variety of majors and degree offerings because of the sheer number of students they serve. However, private universities allow students to change majors and take classes outside of their field with much greater ease. Ask yourself how certain you are about your potential college major and how much you value interdisciplinary learning. For me, I had no idea what I wanted to major in, and coming to a private school has allowed me to try a variety of different subjects. On the other hand, I have friends who have known they want to be software engineers since forever and just want a set track to follow that public schools offer.
Public universities are largely made up of in-state students, so the student body is rather homogenous in terms of where they came from and the types of life experiences they’ve had. If diversity of perspectives and having a more global network is important to you, private universities win out in this aspect. Coming from the Bay Area, I knew that I wanted to escape this bubble and learn from people with different experiences than me.
In general, public schools will have a more energetic feel to them and follow more of the stereotypical college experience. They’re more likely to have a big Greek life presence as well as a lot of school spirit if they have competitive sports teams. Private schools will seem quieter in comparison given the smaller population, and they typically seem more academic on the surface. While there’s usually less of a “party school” vibe, private school students usually still have a variety of options to choose from. I definitely miss the spirit and energy of large football games sometimes, but have appreciated the lack of distractions.
When deciding which type of school to apply for, it ultimately comes down to what your personal preferences are. Most of my preferences happened to line up with what private schools offer, but it could be dramatically different for you as it was for a lot of my friends. Do you value working closely with your professors and peers? Do you want a large student body full of school spirit and energy? Is a large price tag on a private school education worth it for you?
College counseling is a great way to help you get the answers to these questions. At 7EDU, we are committed to helping students determine which schools are best suited to their interests and preferences. Call us at (408) 216-9109 for a free 30 minute consultation with one of our expert counselors!