Private vs. Public Universities: Which One Is Right For You?

College admission decisions are starting to roll in, and students are left with a big decision: what college is right for them? Depending on your college list, you might be wondering if a private or public university is right for you. Here are a few things you should consider. 

Private vs. Public: Tuition

According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees for a four-year public university were $10,230 for in-state students and $26,290 for out-of-state residents during the 2018-2019 school year. To attend a private school, the average cost was $35,830. 

The difference is due to funding. Public universities are funded by taxes paid to their respective state governments. Because state residencies are funding higher education in their state, they have more of an incentive to attend college within their home state. 

Private universities don’t receive any government funding and can either be non-profit or for-profit institutions. Rates may vary depending on how much it is to run the school. 

No matter where you choose to attend, scholarships and other financial aid can help you pay for college. 

Private vs. Public: Class Size 

Because public universities tend to be much cheaper than their private school counterparts, there typically will be higher rates of admission, with tens of thousands of students attending. On the other hand, a private university might have a student body of less than a thousand.

At a public school, you might feel lost in a sea of people while at a private university, you will get more individualized instruction.

Before choosing, ask yourself:

  • Do I learn best independently or with close contact with a professor?
  • Can I learn in discussion-based classes?
  • Will large classes be overwhelming?

Private vs. Public: Academic Opportunities

Not only are the class sizes bigger at public universities, but there will also be more academic choices available. The variety of majors, minors, courses, and degrees typically are more diverse at public universities than at a private one. Due to government funding, public universities tend to have better research facilities. 

However, if you know what you would like to study, especially if you want to continue onto a doctoral or graduate program, a private institution can offer you a more specialized learning experience. You’ll likely get more one-on-one mentoring within your specific field. 

Before choosing, ask yourself:

  • Is my major available at a private university?
  • Do I want to customize my field of study?
  • Which is more important: innovative facilities or direct contact with faculty?

Private vs. Public: Graduation Rates

According to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics, 48.3% of students at private non-profits universities earned degrees within four years, whereas 35% of students at public universities graduate on time. 

Private vs. Public: Campus Life

At a public university, campus life tends to be more energetic and spirited. You’ll find a greater range of extracurricular activities, like competitive sports teams, Greek life, or even career-focused clubs. 

At private colleges, you’ll still have access to clubs, but the atmosphere tends to be a little quieter. The focus is more likely to be on academics than Greek life, partying, or sports. 

Before choosing, ask yourself:

  • What type of college experience do you want? 
  • Do I thrive when surrounded by people?

Final Thoughts

When deciding between a public or private university, there is a lot to consider. The characteristics laid out in this article were generalizations. You’ll be able to find a large private university or a small public university. Ultimately, which college you choose comes down to what you prefer and where you believe you’ll be able to thrive.