It’s difficult to generalize about public and private colleges. That is, it’s easy to generalize about them, but it shouldn’t be done. Despite what you may hear, not all private colleges have sky-high tuition, and many public colleges provide a first-rate education. Tuition at private colleges (particularly elite, well-known universities) is often thousands of dollars more expensive than at public colleges, especially if you would be attending that public college as a resident of the state.
But that’s not always the case. In fact, the out-of-state tuition for a public university can be even higher than the standard tuition at a private college.
The lesson: Never eliminate a college or university from consideration purely because you think it will cost too much. Even if the full tuition is out of your budget, you may be eligible for financial aid and scholarships that will drop the cost of tuition into your price range.
There are at least a couple of concrete differences between public and private colleges: their funding. Public colleges receive money from the government of the state where they are located and often offer a lower tuition for students who are residents of that state. Private colleges do not receive government funding and have one tuition (excluding financial aid and scholarships) for everyone. Beyond that, it’s best to look past the labels of “public” and “private,” and instead concentrate on the reputation and academic resources of a specific institution. It’s true that all Ivy League universities are private, but many well-known public universities offer Ivy-level academics at comparatively bargain-basement prices.
Some students think that listing a private college on their resume is more impressive than a public college. Sure, everyone recognizes Harvard and Yale, but few people outside of the community may have heard of a school in rural Kansas with a student population of 500, even if it is a private college. That college probably has plenty of merits, but name-recognition isn’t one of them. For many students that doesn’t matter. But if you plan a nationwide search for jobs after graduation, having the name of a well-known, respected college (public or private) may help.
If only there was a simple answer!
Individual colleges — public and private — have different academic specialties. They offer tuition to fit nearly any budget. “Private College A” may be a much better fit for you than “Public College A” but may not stack up as well against “Public College B.” Then again, you may find that only private colleges offer what you want from a college. Whatever you do, be sure you consider both public colleges and private colleges, whatever your tuition, academic and social requirements.