The Difference Between Public and Private Colleges

In College Admissions on Apr 12, 2016

Private vs. public, junior college vs. four-year university, for-profit vs. nonprofit … this college jargon is enough to make anyone’s head spin! Here’s a rundown of what some of these terms mean to help you with your college search.

What’s the Big Difference Between Public and Private?
In a nutshell: The funding. Public schools get most of their funding from state governments and private colleges receive theirs from private donations and tuition.

Junior colleges (sometimes called community colleges) are government-funded two-year colleges that grant associate’s degrees and certificates. Many students attend these schools for a year or two before heading off to a four-year university to complete their degree.

Which Costs More?
This difference in funding often means the sticker price of a public university is lower than a private institution. The average cost for undergrad tuition and room and board at a public school was $15,022 at a public school, according to 2012-2013 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Compare that to $39,173 at private nonprofit colleges.

While costs should play a role in your college decision process, don’t write all private colleges just because the average price is higher. You may receive scholarships or grants that make the cost equal to – or less than – a public university.

Are Private Schools More Challenging?
Not necessarily. You hear about academically tough private schools like Harvard and Yale all the time, but there are plenty of public universities that really make you work for good grades. UCLA, West Point, the University of Michigan and Virginia Tech are just a few examples.

That being said, keep in mind that many private schools try to keep class sizes small. While some public universities are able to do the same, they sometimes have large lecture classes filled with several hundred students. This can make it difficult for some people to understand the material, let alone show up every day!

No matter what your academic background is, there are both public or private schools that will allow you to thrive. Add a few of each to your college list as you continue your college search.

How Are the Student Bodies Different?
Private colleges often have smaller student bodies, but some are just as large as their public peers – this gives you plenty of chances to meet new people. But one big difference can be the number of in-state students. Most public state schools offer lower tuition to local students, so you may find more people from your area at a public university than a private college. 

Hopefully this clears up the questions you had about public and private schools, but feel free to reach out on Facebook or Twitter with more questions. 

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