Public VS Private College: Which Is Right For You?

Public VS Private College: Which Is Right For You?

Public vs private college, which is a better option?

The hustle and bustle, and diverse student bodies of large public universities like UCLA or ASU can be very appealing. On the other hand, the benefits that come from small class sizes of private colleges like Occidental or Pepperdine are tough to beat.

We’re not here to tell you that private colleges are better than public colleges, or vice-versa. Instead, we’re here to say that both types of colleges offer a ton of different resources and benefits and that, depending on you or your child’s preferences, one college might be a better fit for them than another.

Choosing the right college can be a tough and stressful decision, especially when you don’t know the major differences between public and private colleges, but fear not! Let this article be your guide in choosing the best school for you.


This is by far the biggest difference between public and private colleges—private colleges cost more, significantly more.

We’re gonna go ahead and assume that everyone reading this article would rather pay less money to attend college.

However, this doesn’t mean that a private school education can’t be well worth the cost. Having a degree from a prestigious private college might possibly open more doors for your child, and increase their return on investment.

But let me make one thing clear—COST IS NOT ALWAYS AN INDICATOR OF QUALITY.

It’s true. Most private schools have smaller class sizes, but some public universities offer this benefit as well! For example, ASU’s Honor College program offers smaller class sizes to those who qualify for the program.

The same can be said about prestige. UC Berkeley, the world’s top public research institution frequently ranks above most private schools, and in league with (and sometimes above) Ivy League schools. This is why UC Berkeley admission requirements are so stringent.

So basically, private schools generally cost more, and while cost is an important factor to most, it should not be the only factor taken into consideration when making the big decision–especially because you never know what scholarships you’ll end up with.


Public universities are significantly larger (in terms of class size) than private colleges. Duh, right? You probably already knew that one when you started thinking of the issue on public vs private college.

Let’s start off by describing the general view of class-size:

If your child attends a private college, their class sizes will be much smaller. There will be more opportunities to become engaged in in-depth discussions with their professors, and they will get to know most of their fellow students extremely well (much like in high school).

If your child attends a public university, their class sizes will likely be huge (sometimes in the hundreds). It will be difficult for them to get any one-on-one time with their professors and while they will probably make friends, they will miss out on that close-knit community feel that comes with attending a private college.

While the above two statements are, more or less, true statements, they constitute a very two-dimensional view of class size. The big problem that we see with this very general view of class size is that it ignores the benefits that come from having a large student body.

Read on to find out more about these benefits!

Degree and Program Offerings

Here’s where having a large student body starts to pay off. In general, public universities offer more majors and minors.

Right now you’re probably wondering why exactly private schools can’t offer the variety of programs that public schools do. The simple answer is that private schools don’t have the student bodies to sustain a large number of programs.

If Occidental college offered the same number of degrees that ASU offers, there would be like 2 people in each major. That would just be silly (and inefficient).

Let us give you an example of how this affects your child. Let’s say your child wants to study business, specifically accounting.

First of all, not all private universities even have business schools or offer majors in business, and those that do often only have one umbrella major like “business” or “business administration,” but no accounting major.

Now let’s take a look at ASU, a public university.

ASU has an entire college dedicated to business. Within that college ASU offers majors in seemingly infinite fields of business, including accounting, finance, marketing, and supply-chain management. You can also major in business politics, business management, business with an emphasis on public speaking, and so on…

Bigger does not always mean better. Degrees that make the most money out of college tend to be highly specialized skills such as computer science and engineering. This is where the smaller universities shine.

Campus Clubs and Student-Led Groups

Naturally, because private schools have significantly fewer students, there are going to be fewer clubs and student-led groups because… well… there aren’t enough students to lead a bunch of clubs.

We’re not saying that you won’t be able to find your niche at a private college, but it might be a bit harder.

At a public university you’re likely to find clubs centered on just about anything! Are you pre-med? Communist? Swing-dancer? Crocodile wrestler? There’s probably a club for that! 

This difference between public and private colleges should not be overlooked if you are into extracurricular activities.

Financial Aid

Since private colleges have more funds, they are more generous when it comes to giving financial aids. They offer a significant amount of student discounts to those students who are in need but shows good academic standing. 

We’re not saying that public universities don’t have any program to help out financially challenged students. In fact, their low tuition fee may already serve as their way of helping out.

However, the aids they usually offer are financed by the state and every student, even those who are enrolled in private universities are entitled to that. 

Religious Affiliation

Most public universities are not affiliated to any religion. Meaning to say, they accept students no matter what their system of belief is.

Contrary to this, some private universities are directly affiliated to certain churches and so they only accept students who are also of the same religion to avoid conflict of interest. 

Although some sectarian private colleges accept students of different religion, these students sometimes find it hard to follow the rules set by the school because it’s different to what they believe in.

Again, this is just for the purpose of stating the difference between public and private colleges and this may not be true for everyone. In order for you to understand more about this issue, you should research the college admission requirements of each school you’re interested in.


Another big difference between public and private colleges is the athletic teams they have.

Since most Division I athletic teams come from public colleges, they tend to invest more on trainings and sports competitions. This is greatly because public schools value athletic recognitions since they bring honor to the school.

Public schools also have a lot of students that are inclined in sports because of their big population.

Meanwhile, private schools also have athletic facilities and teams but their focus is still on academics.


In comparing public vs private college, we also have to consider their accreditation standing. 

What is accreditation anyway?

Let’s put it this way, for a restaurant to be considered high standard, it should receive a high number of Michelin star. For colleges and universities, their level of accreditation matters because it serves as the basis if they offer quality instruction and facilities.

Colleges have two options to be accredited: nationally or regionally. The regional accreditation is considered more heavy than the national accreditation and most public universities are regionally accredited. 

Meanwhile, some private schools chose to be accredited nationally especially if they are associated with a certain religion..

Diversity of students

Because of the low tuition fee, public schools attract more students from different states and different walks of life. In a class of 50 for instance, you will find each student very interesting because of their different cultural background.

This is one of the reasons why in the issue of public vs private college, most students prefer the side of the public schools.

The more the diverse the student body is, the more opportunity for them to learn something interesting from one another. This is not to say that private colleges aren’t diverse.

The diversity in private colleges are mostly due to the same tuition fee they offer no matter where their students come from. 


Even though when it comes to prestige, both colleges has their own strengths that makes them notable, private colleges tend to be perceived as more prestigious than public colleges. 

The main reasons for this is that they place higher in college rankings, they publish more academic researches, and they have known college faculty members.

Students who graduated from private colleges are also given priority by most companies. 

Work offerings

Work availability is the biggest difference between public and private colleges next to tuition fee. 

In public colleges, there are more job opportunities offered to the students inside the school. Some professors hire student assistants to help them with their paperwork. Libraries and school offices also need assistants and they prioritize students that are really in need of money.

This kind of working set up not only helps the students pay their tuition fees but also helps them in dealing with tasks that they would probably experience after graduating in college.

Meanwhile, there is a slim chance for private school students to work while they are studying since there are limited vacant job posts inside the school. Some private colleges are also not flexible when it comes to schedule so students won’t be able to work even outside the college. 


When it comes to school events, most public schools sponsor more non-academic related activities than private colleges.


Since the student population is large, different organizations create events to cater to the student body’s interest. Public colleges are also probably more open to activities that is not gender biased unlike private colleges who are affiliated to certain religions and have strict beliefs on gender.

In this area of debate on public vs private college, we cannot say for sure which is better because some students prefer schools that has lesser events so that they can focus more on academics.

Conclusions: Public vs Private College

Well there you go! A breakdown of the difference between public and private colleges. 

Private colleges, while more expensive, have huge benefits. While public universities might lack the charm and community feel that private colleges have, they often have more degree programs and more on-campus opportunities.

Like we said, choosing the right college can be tough, but don’t stress out too much! The college gods have a way of making sure that people end up where they’re supposed to be, and I know very few people that have been unhappy with their choice of college.

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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