Private vs Public Colleges

Do you know the key differences between public and private institutions?  One of the main differences is cost.  You should familiarize yourself with the costs of public and private institutions in your state.   Private institutions are generally more expensive than public but have the ability to offer good financial aid packages.  Private colleges have access to large endowments.   As was mentioned in a earlier post, David applied to USC as a reach college.  They made it obvious they wanted him on their campus by their financial offerings.  I tell students not to let the cost of an institution deter them from applying.   If a school is really interested in you, the money will follow.


Yes, public colleges are cheaper and a good deal for in-state residents.  You should also know that there are out-of-state colleges that will match your in-state tuition.  I feel you should only attend a school out-of-state if they are giving you an awards package that is similar or less than what you expect to pay in-state.  Therefore, it is important to include both public and private colleges in your choice.  I have found that students are worth more at private colleges whether in or out-of-state.

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of each:

Public Colleges

  •  More diversity
  • Large numbers, large classes, may take longer to graduate
  • More course offerings.
  • Majority of funding from the federal and state. If there are financial problems programs could be cut.
  • Limited number of merit scholarships.
  • More loan-based aid.
  • Residents attending in-state have opportunity for additional federal and state grants.
  • Break on tuition if you are a resident.
  • FAFSA submission required for aid.

Private Colleges

  • Funded by endowments and donations. They have their own stash of money to give to whomever they wish.
  • Generally give more individualized attention.
  • Flexibility in choice of major and minors, can select courses from any area. Some schools allow you to create your own major.
  • Community focused.
  • Can be more creative in giving financial aid offers.
  • Everyone pays same tuition.
  • In addition to the FAFSA, some colleges may require the CSS Profile (College Scholarship Search).
  • Higher retention and graduation rates.

public-vs-private-graphicThe bottom line, whether you choose public or private, you need to put yourself in the best position to get scholarships by having good grades, involvement in school and community, good standardized test scores and demonstrated leadership.  Remember, if they want you, they will make it obvious by their offer.


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