Private University Versus Public University Essay Prompt

By Kai Dambach

The Memorial Chapel at the University of Maryland, a public university outside Washington, D.C. in College Park, Md.

All you have to do is Google “private colleges vs. public colleges” to see a face-off that’s been ongoing probably before you were born. But clearly, there must be a winner by now, right? Or is the answer of which type of school is better, private or public, a subjective one?

Let’s see if we can resolve this debate, to pronounce a winner once and for all.

The main differences

First, let’s look at the major differences between public and private colleges, as pointed out in an article by the staff at higher education company Peterson’s:

  • Funding: Public colleges are funded mostly by state governments, whereas private colleges rely heavily on private contributions, donations and tuition.
  • Size: Public colleges typically have more students and degree offerings than private colleges.
  • Class size: Private colleges typically have smaller class sizes than public colleges, although it should be pointed out that many public colleges offer smaller classes.
  • Demographics: Public colleges typically have more in-state students, due to in-state incentives, whereas private colleges tend to admit more out-of-state students. Of course, it depends on the school, though.
  • These are some pretty big differences, affecting both how schools are ran and a student’s experience there. But only you can determine how much these details matter to you.

    The case for public colleges

    There are many great reasons to go to a public college.

    Public colleges, on average, cost less than private colleges. Here’s the average tuition costs for the 2012-13 school year, according to a report by The College Board:

  • public four-year in-state: $8,655
  • public four-year out-of-state: $21,706
  • private nonprofit four-year: $29,056.
  • The lower cost is just one of the multiple ways public colleges excel over private colleges, according to Campus Explorer CEO Jerry Slavonia.

    “If you’re more independent, decent at maneuvering through bureaucracy and enjoy higher energy environments, public schools are built for you,” Slavonia said. “Public colleges also tend to be more diverse in population and students do typically graduate with less debt.”

    You may also find higher acceptance rates at public colleges than private schools, depending on the college. This reason alone may make it at least wise to include one or more public colleges in schools you apply to.

    The case for private colleges

    There’s no shortage of good reasons to attend a private college, either, according to Slavonia.

    “Private colleges tend to have greater resources available to students, generally speaking,” said Slavonia, though it should be noted that it really does depend on the school.Private colleges may cost a bit more but you’re more likely to get access to what you need, when you need it.”

    Stephanie Belsky, a 2006 graduate of Ithaca College in upstate New York, experienced the perks of a private college firsthand. She loved the personal attention of the school and faculty at her school.

    “It felt like they (Ithaca College) not only wanted students to succeed but that the staff and faculty would do everything they could to make sure after you graduate you would have a job and marketable skills that would translate into your resume,” Belsky said.

    Belsky also appreciated how some of her Ithaca College professors were willing to get coffee with students or spend time with them outside of class, to hear them out on something or to better understand their concerns.

    And the winner is…

    So, did we once and for all resolve the debate of private colleges vs. public colleges?

    Not really. Each student will answer that question differently and find the right school for them, whether it’s public or private. According to Slavonia, students should approach the college decision the same way they would approach a committed relationship.

    “It’s a major investment,” Slavonia said. “You naturally want a high return on your investment but don’t kid yourself: Colleges have traits just like people do so it’s important to find a college that will be a good partner and create a successful outcome. You can do that by being smart about what you consider important in a school.”

    What’s important to one student may be futile to another. Some students may prefer the small class sizes of private colleges, whereas another student may prefer a large public school. Regardless, neither kind of college is bad. Both kinds of schools can prepare you for your future career, supply great networking events and grant you the best college experience you can imagine.

    The winner is whichever school you decide to go to. Choose wisely and think it through extensively, seeking the necessary counsel and resources.

    Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer who specializes in higher education. He’s been published by the likes of the Huffington Post and and earned a journalism degree from a public college in Reno. He blogs at

    college students, colleges, Jon Fortenbury, private college, schools, student, COLLEGE CHOICE 


    The major difference between public universities and private colleges lies in how they are funded. If you're looking for more information about the difference between public and private universities, read on in this article.


    The major difference between public universities and private colleges lies in how they are funded. This affects students because funding is tied to tuition prices. Most public universities and colleges were founded by state governments, some as early as the 1800s, to give residents the opportunity to receive public college education. Today, state governments pay for most of the cost of operating public universities. They also oversee these institutions through appointed boards and trustees.

    This influx of public money is why tuition is lower at a public university. The real cost of an attendance is subsidized. Money raised from tuition doesn't need to cover all of a public college's expenses, such as paying faculty.

    Meanwhile, private colleges don't receive funds from state legislatures. They rely heavily on tuition and private contributions. This means tuition rates are generally higher.

    Size and Degree Offerings

    Another difference between private and public colleges is their size and the number of degrees they typically offer. Private colleges tend to be much smaller than public universities and may have only a few thousand students. Public universities and colleges can be big, and some are huge. One example of a large public university is Ohio State University, home to 42,000 undergraduates.

    Students who want a wide choice of majors can find them at public universities. In a single large public university, undergraduates will be enrolled in academic programs ranging from traditional liberal arts to highly specialized technical fields.  Private colleges offer a smaller range of majors, but often have a particular academic focus. Some private colleges may emphasize the liberal arts or the fine arts, for instance, while others focus on engineering and computer science. 

    Class size and demographics

    Class-size is another major difference. Private colleges keep classes small, with easy access to professors. At public universities, however, 200 students may be enrolled in some classes, especially in lower-division courses.

    Private and public colleges also tend to have different demographics and ratios. For example, in-state students applying to their public universities are admitted in far greater numbers and pay lower tuition than students applying from out-of-state. In contrast, state residency isn't crucial at private colleges, which results in a greater geographical diversity among the student body.

    Public university or private college?

    You should identify your goals and consider costs, class size, culture, and environment before choosing between a public university and private school for your college experience. To find out more about what colleges might be right for you, start a college search.

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