Spring is a season of new beginnings. By now, you must be ready to tackle the college search. I don’t mean you have to make any decisions on which is your number one college choice, but more like a deep dive into narrowing your options down to a concise college list. This list is ideally has no more than 15 colleges/universities, including at least 2 reach schools, 2 target schools, and 2 safety schools.
The internet is amazing in so that it makes all college/university information available at your fingertips. Meanwhile, from the comfort of your own home you can get a pretty good idea of what colleges and universities are good fit for you. The only downside is, where do you start with just around 4,000 colleges and universities to investigate? I see families get anxiety when looking at all the options colleges have to offer; big or small campus size, rural or urban setting, small or big student-teacher ratio . . . these are just a few of the questions. Here I have taken out the confusion by narrowing it down to just “private” or “public” university options. And to simplify this process even more, I’ve broken it down to just 4 categories to focus on; undergrad student enrollment, student-teacher dynamics, financial aid availability, and school spirit.
But first, understanding the difference between the terms “college” and “university”
The terms “college” and “university” are used interchangeably when talking about the college admissions process. Some higher educations call themselves a university and others call themselves a university. So are they really two totally different establishments? The answer is, not really.
College: This terms is includes to ALL colleges and universities. So, you will find a college(s) inside a university, but not the other way around. Most institutins that refer to themselves as a college are usually private institutions. Colleges tend to be smaller in campus size and enrollment size. A “college” distinguises itself in a particular field of study. That’s why most private colleges are called “liberal arts colleges”.
University: This term mostly refers to large “flagship” public state institution of higher education. They enrollment of students in these schools are much higher in number than a “college”. The campus size is also bigger. The key difference from a college is that a university has “colleges” within it. For example, the University of California San Diego has 5 colleges within it, each one focusing on a different field of study. The 5 colleges can be seen by clicking the link here.
Undergraduate Student Enrollment
The difference between private and public colleges/university student enrollment is the actual number of students who are in the institution itself. Public universities, in most cases, attract a big percentage of the state its located in. Whereas, a private college attracts students from a larger region of the Unites States.
Two extremes are, Texas A & M University and Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania). The first one has 68,825 students enrolled in 2017 while the latter has a student enrollment of 1,709 (2017). The difference is staggering. You cans see how your interests, social life, and general life could be totally different in these two types of environments.
Depending on your classroom size, you can expect to be able to (or not) have a close relationship with your professor and experience class discussions. One can only imagine the impossibility of having an intimate, deep discussion on issues in a class with 600 students. On the other hand, in most private liberal arts colleges students have the ability to have meaningful discussions with input of a diverse group of students. In the end, your choice of a public or private college/university depends on what classroom style you thrive in.
Another factor to think about is that, in a private college, you will also be able to meet privately with professors to bring up concerns and any elaboration on a subject that you want to know about. Some students even build such strong relationships with professors through research collaboration. These valuable “mentorship”relationships can last a life-time. While in a public university, there are some relationships as describe in the latter, but they are more rare.
One would most likely assume that it would be more economical to attend a public university. I mean, it just makes more sense, right? In many cases, it is actually the total opposite. The financial equation of the whole financial aid process is a separate entity of its own when it comes to the college admissions process. Each college/university offers a unique “financial package” to each students. These financial packages are based off the information provided in the FAFSA (Free Application For Student Aid). To learn more about the basics of the FAFSA and other financial aid options read my post, Figuring Out How to Pay for College; What is the FAFSA & CSS?
Often, families are astonished with how much financial aid through merit scholarships and institutional aid that private colleges offer them. The tuition for a middle socioeconomic class student, all too often, end up paying less for tuition for a private liberal arts college than a state university. It all comes down to the personal financial equation of a particular family. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through my contact page and I will be more than happy to help!
Another determining factor to consider when choosing between public vs private colleges is school spirit. Are you a student who loves to attend wildly, crazy rival games often? If so, you maybe should consider going to a public university. With that said, many private colleges do have school pride.
If you love the atmosphere of hundreds, thousands of students all unified by cheering on and all dressed up in crazy college color outfits shouting and rooting on their teams on, and who will come out for very game, then you will love attending a public flagship university.
The school spirit factor lingers on in life to post-graduation days. It’s fun to watch the reaction of a colleague when they hear that you’re a graduate of their rival school!
The College Search
Public vs private colleges is just one aspect of the college search. It is important to clarify from the start the differences between the two. Knowing the difference will help narrow down your choices of the hundreds of colleges out there.