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Private College or Public College: Which Is Right For You?

Ah, the big question–should I attend a public or private college?

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.

I’m not here to tell you that private colleges are better than public colleges, or vice-versa. Instead I’m 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 blog article be your personal guide to the advantages and disadvantages of both types of colleges.

Tuition

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

I’m gonna go ahead and assume that everyone reading this article would rather pay less money to attend college (I know I would).

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.

Tuition for private college vs pubic college

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.

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.

Size

Public universities are significantly larger (in terms of class size) than private colleges. I mean, duh, right? You probably already knew that one.

Class Size for private college vs public college

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

  1. 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).
  2. 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 I 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’d be like 2 people in each major, and that’d just be silly (and inefficient).

Majors at private college vs public college

Let me 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…

So it looks like a large student body can be a good thing. At a public university, your child can major in just about anything their heart desires!

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.

This is an area that I have personal experience in!

All throughout high school I was in choir with one of my good friends. After high school, I went on to attend a public university in California, and she a small private college. We both wanted to keep up with our singing, which was easy for me to do since there were 13 student-led a cappella groups at my college (even if I didn’t make it into one there were 12 other groups I could try out for).

My friend did not have the same luxury. In fact, there were no student-led singing groups on her campus at all. Not a single one. Nada!

I’m 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!

Conclusions

Well there you go! 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 I 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, public or private.

And, once you’ve decided on your dream college, click here for more information on how your SAT scores can help you get into the college of your dreams!

Coauthored by Jeffrey Mortensen

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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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