What Is the Difference Between Private College and Public College?
The main difference between private and public colleges is how they’re funded. Public universities receive funding through their state governments, while private colleges rely on private endowments. Most public and private colleges also have major differences in degree programs, the cost of tuition, and the size of the student body.
Private universities and public colleges rely on very different funding methods. While virtually every college charges tuition to cover basic costs, they get the rest of their funding from two main sources. Public colleges are institutions funded by and designed for the public, as they depend on state government funds.
In contrast, private universities largely rely on funds from individuals, businesses, and other organizations. Many private universities have endowments, and they solicit donations from alumni and other connected organizations.
Tuition and Cost of Attendance
The cost of tuition varies significantly from school to school. However, as a general rule, the tuition and cost of attendance for public universities is much lower than the cost to attend private colleges.
Public colleges, which are also called state universities, tend to offer affordable tuition for in-state residents. Naturally, some of the taxes that public college students pay to go to state universities, and these institutions anticipate that many students will remain in the area and continue to contribute both taxes and skills after graduation. Out-of-state students may pay higher tuition at public universities, but the cost of tuition tends to be more affordable than at private colleges.
Tuition is often much higher at private universities, but the total cost of attendance isn’t always unattainable, even for students on a budget. Many private colleges offer high-value scholarships and grants to promising students. Some students also opt to take out federal or private student loans, anticipating that they can easily pay them back after landing a great job post-graduation.
Student Body and Class Size
When it comes to comparing public and private colleges, it isn’t all about the money. Another major difference between the two relates to the number of students on campus and in the classroom.
Most state universities are designed to welcome large student bodies, with some undergraduate student bodies numbering over 50,000. Although large public universities also have larger faculties and more facilities, class sizes also tend to be larger. That may mean that undergraduate students can’t easily access professors or get one-on-one help.
In contrast, most private universities are much smaller, with student bodies that number in the hundreds or thousands. Many private colleges also strive to keep class sizes as small as possible so that students can easily connect with professors. For students seeking a more personalized experience in college, private colleges can offer a significant advantage.
Since state universities tend to be much larger, they often have a long list of extracurricular opportunities. Many are also known for their sports teams or their party scenes, but there’s usually something for everyone, especially in such a large student body.
While private colleges might not have the well-funded sports teams or the large-scale participation in campus clubs and activities, most still have thriving extracurricular scenes. Students who want to build well-rounded social lives without as much competition may prefer private universities.
Degree Programs and Academics
State universities tend to offer a virtually endless list of majors and academic programs in order to satisfy their diverse student bodies. If you’re undecided or if you’re trying to decide between a few different majors, attending a state university might give you the range of options you need.
While private universities also offer a long list of degree programs, they tend to be more specialized. Some are known for specific academic programs, which allows faculty to specialize and may attract dedicated students. Some private colleges even allow students to design their own unique majors with the assistance of a faculty advisor.
Many state universities also double as research institutions, which can mean that opportunities abound. With so many students competing for resources, though, getting a research gig or a top-notch internship can be challenging.
Most private universities don’t have as much research funding to offer, but there isn’t as much competition for access to the available opportunities. Since professors offer much more personalized attention, however, they may be able to help students seek out their dream research opportunities, internships, or academic projects.
Whether you’ve already picked out your dream school or you’re still weighing your options, don’t wait to complete the FAFSA® form. Secure the financial aid you need to get your college career on the right track.