When looking into schools, you may want to consider if you prefer a public state school, or a private school—or if you have no preference! Though every college or university is going to be similar in the fact that you will be attending classes on a new campus, the differences between public and private schools can be subtle but impactful.
First off: what is a public school, and what is a private school? A public university is funded by its respective state government, while a private university operates completely independently of the government, and is funded instead by endowments from alumni and other donors. This technically is the only dictionary-definition difference between the two.
But generally (and remember, this is all general—there are always exceptions!), private and public universities operate differently and provide a different sort of campus and lifestyle from the other.
Public universities are generally much cheaper. Tuition costs are often several times less at public schools than at private schools. Plus, if you attend a school in the state in which you live, your tuition is even less—in-state students get a cheaper tuition price tag than out-of-state students. On the other hand, private universities tend to offer more financial aid to students. Well-endowed private schools often have more money to throw out in the form of grants and scholarships than public schools.
Another factor to consider is that when applying for a school in your home state, your chances of being admitted increase. In-state students and their parents’ taxes go to public colleges, so these students get first priority in terms of admission. Of course, if you a student applying to an out-of-state public university, this doesn’t apply to you.
Private universities also often staff more esteemed professors, often have smaller class sizes, and offer more extra-curricular activities than public universities—though again, these are all generalizations!
Remember that there are a lot of common misconceptions regarding the differences between public and private institutions. Often, people assume that private universities are more prestigious, or look better on a resume—this is definitely not always the case. People also tend to think that private schools’ curriculums are more rigorous or intense than those at public schools—but again, public university students can attest that any acclaimed, professional college is going to be challenging, no matter where you go!
Ultimately, it is impossible to recommend one over the other. And realistically, there are too many nuances between schools to generate accurate, concrete statistics that measure the differences between public and private. When applying to colleges, I don’t advise any student to rule out one or the other. Instead, read up on schools you think you might be interested in, visit every school you can get to, and study up on what each individual school’s tuition is (as well as what their financial aid packages tend to look like.) In the end, these are the real factors in deciding on a school: whether it is financially realistic, whether the campus feels like home, and whether you feel a connection to the school.