There are a plethora of charming labels that American colleges like to pitch to unsuspecting high school students such as “Unleash your potential!” “Explore your passion!” or the dreaded and ominous, “Find your place here!” Students begin to fret about what colleges they will apply to as early as freshman year, and find themselves awash in the excess of labels and slogans that are thrown at them by the PR teams of different colleges. By the time senior year approaches, most students have a list of potential schools they want to spend their next few years at. Compiling this list, however, requires much time and thought into several factors, including potentially deciding between the most important label of them all: public or private. Although it may sound fairly self-explanatory, deeming a university to be “private” or “public” is a factor that is imperative to any teenager’s search for higher education. But what do these words mean in actuality? From the cost of attendance to developing a flourishing social life, the privatization of college is an issue that has ramifications in nearly every aspect of post-secondary life.
When comparing inherently different institutions, lifestyle can be a crucial factor to weigh along with the obvious qualms concerning academics. For example, the elusive “Greek Life” is found by many to be more attainable and ubiquitous at private schools where the schools themselves tend to be less concerned with hosting sponsored events. These elite communities can often be hotbeds for a family of supportive peers, as well as a means with which to network and further one’s own career. That isn’t to say that public schools don’t offer the same opportunities in the realm of Greek organizations– if anything, public universities tend to have larger and more diverse student profiles, leading to an impressive breadth of social options. UCLA boasts over a thousand clubs, with Indiana University also claiming an impressive 750+ student organizations.
Festivities aside, one of the biggest factors students must consider when choosing to apply to a certain college is tuition. From dorms to books to meal plans, the cost of attending college often leave many students grappling with debt long after graduation. Private colleges are infamous for the immense magnitude of their tuition. Their high cost is attributed to the fact that these schools typically heavily rely on tuition, donations, and private funding to operate. According to a 2011 College Board report, the average tuition for the 2011-2012 school year was $38,589, compared to the $17,000 cost of public, in-state colleges. However, private colleges tend to grant more scholarships to students in order to ease the financial burden. Public colleges, on the other hand, receive federal or state funding and can usually afford to lower their tuition fees. But not all public colleges are affordable; schools out of state can be just as, if not more, costly than private universities.
Many wonder if smaller, private universities are worth the additional price. After all, many view college as a stepping stone into the professional world, and search for schools according to this philosophy. Public schools generally have a larger class size which can be advantageous in many ways. According to the U.S. News and World Report, public universities have an average student body of 43,186 students. A bigger student body allows for more networking opportunities among the students and usually means that there are more educational facilities on campus to accommodate all the students. Student population also alters the atmosphere of the school. “If you’re more independent, decent at maneuvering through bureaucracy and enjoy higher energy environments, public schools are built for you,” says Jerry Slavonia, the CEO of Campus Explorer, “Public schools also tend to be more diverse in population.” Private schools, on the other hand, have an average of 1,920 students enrolled, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. This allows for a closer-knit student body and a smaller student to teacher ratio, which allows students to have more personalized attention.
When deciding between a public and private school, is there an inherently better option? There is no definite answer as both schools’ advantages and disadvantages vary in terms of tuition, social life, and size, but what’s more important is how well each individual school could prepare a student for their future and if a student could thrive in its environment. Everyone learns in a different way, thus it is only natural that the environment in which an individual excels will differ as well.
Violet Maxwell and Christine Han
Graphics: Maraea Garcia