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How to decide between public and private colleges

Every high school student faces the decision: private or public university? The short answer to this question is that there are pros and cons to each. To help you narrow down your decision, we’ve compiled a list of benefits and differences.

Need more help deciding? Download this helpful college decision worksheet.

Differences between public and private colleges

  • Size: One of the primary differences between public and private colleges is their size. Public universities are generally much larger than private universities. Public schools can range all the way up to an undergraduate enrollment of 55,000 (University of Central Florida), while many private schools have an undergraduate enrollment of 5,000 or fewer students. Generally speaking, larger, public schools also have larger class sizes (think lecture-style), and smaller, private colleges have smaller class sizes (more conversational).
  • Funding and cost: Public universities are primarily funded by state governments, and therefore often have slightly lower tuition rates. Private colleges rely heavily on donations and private contributions. Both private and public universities have financial aid options available for students.
  • Religious affiliations: Private colleges have the freedom to hold to very specific religious beliefs, and cultivate a culture that embraces those beliefs. Public schools avoid religious affiliations due to their roots in government funding.

Why choose a private university?

Private universities offer a more customized educational experience than public schools do. If you’re looking for smaller class sizes and faculty who know not only your name, but also your dreams and goals, a private college is probably a good fit for you.

Private colleges also offer religious affiliations and community life standards that public universities cannot. If you’re looking for a Christian college, it will be a private Christian college. A private education offers you the opportunity to worship Jesus alongside other students who also desire the same thing.

Why choose a public university?

Public universities, because they are generally larger, do tend to offer a longer list of majors than private colleges. This can give you the opportunity to choose from a wide selection if you are unsure of what you would like to do.

Because of government funding that public colleges receive, the tuition rates are often lower than private universities. If finances are preventing you from choosing a college, don’t forget to also look into financial aid options, which is offered at both private and public schools.

Conclusion: you choose

There’s no single university that’s perfect for everyone. Instead, there are many, many options for you to choose from. Identify what your goals are for your college experience. Do you want to grow in your faith while you’re in college? If yes, a private Christian college might be a good fit for you.

Do you want to be part of a giant campus with thousand and thousands of other students? If yes, a public university is probably your style.

Take time to visit a few different types of colleges and universities and imagine yourself in each place. Decide whether a public or private college would achieve your goals, and go from there!

Need help deciding?

Use this free college decision worksheet

Download this helpful college decision worksheet to narrow down your choices.