Understanding what Public and Private Colleges are

Last updated on November 15, 2017

When you begin looking at colleges and trying to decide which ones to apply to, you’ll probably notice that there are two major types: public and private. And while many of you may already know the differences, we thought it might be a good idea to explain what these two different types are, and why you should consider applying to both.

Public College

Most public colleges and universities are schools that are funded by the state. This means that the income and sales taxes that you pay while in your home state help to pay for the expenses of the college, including the buildings, professorial salaries, and other day-to-day expenses that any college or university has to pay regularly.

Every state has at least one state-run university, and many states have a large number.

Many public colleges, such as Arizona State University, the University of Minnesota, and Michigan State University, are very large and house tens of thousands of students. These large campuses often offer a great number of degree programs and education options.

There are also many public community and technical colleges that reside on small campuses, contain only a few hundred students, and may focus on certain types of degrees. Many of these colleges offer two-year associate’s degrees instead of requiring four years of study for a B.A. or B.S.

Tuition at a public university may be less than at a private university, because they count on state funding—however, tuition for students who live outside of the state the college is in may find themselves paying more.

Private University

Private universities are not funded by the government, and rely on tuition payments, endowments, grants, and donations for their income. Because of this, they are often more expensive.

Some private universities, such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and New York University, are very prestigious and have very large reputations. Getting accepted into one of these schools is a very high honor, as many apply, but few are accepted.

Private colleges are often smaller in size than public schools, and sometimes offer smaller class sizes.

Many private schools hold a religious affiliation, such as Brigham Young University (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), the University of Notre Dame (the Catholic Church), and Valparaiso University (the Lutheran Church). There are also many nonsectarian private colleges.

What’s Your Choice?

Many high school students get caught up on the issue of public vs. private colleges, but it’s not something that should weigh heavily in your college-choosing process (unless you want to attend a two-year program or a college with a religious affiliation).

There are excellent schools in both the public and the private sectors, and both contain highly selective schools as well as less selective ones. Try to base your decisions on other factors, such as location, desired major, and the acceptance rate of the college, and you’ll find that you end up in a place that you’re happy with.