If you ask many high school seniors, the ultimate college dream may be to attend an Ivy League school, such as Harvard University or Yale University. These schools represent the highest pinnacle in a college education, and many students would be willing to do whatever it takes just to get a ‘golden ticket’ to any of them. Unfortunately, that dream also comes at a price. It’s no secret that a private college can run upwards of $60,000 a year in tuition, books and other fees, but is it really worth it? For some, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
One of the big differences between private and public colleges is often the size of the classes. A majority of private colleges offer small classes (10-25 students), which allows for more one-on-one interaction between the students and professor. There are also more opportunities for class discussions, allowing students the opportunity to learn how to make an argument and defend their position. According to an article in Mother Jones, this is especially important in developing writing and critical thinking skills, especially when the class is led by a professor. For students who have a difficult time participating in class discussions, private colleges may offer a more inclusive environment, allowing them the opportunity to develop these skills over time. In a public college, where larger classes and lectures are more common, some students may find it more difficult to keep up or ask for assistance, especially when the class is being taught by a teaching assistant or graduate student. Having a professor who knows the subject matter and can offer helpful suggestions can make all the difference in a student’s education and college experience.
Although smaller class sizes may offer students a more hands-on education and the chance to develop better critical thinking and writing skills, there are some disadvantages to attending a private college, as well. For one, most private colleges cannot offer the variety of college degree programs or research opportunities that are found at the larger public universities. The student body itself may be less diverse than a public college and, depending on the school, the credits earned at a private college may be more difficult to transfer to other institutions, should students decide the school is not right for them.
Another thing to consider is the cost of a private education. Although it may seem impossible for many students to cover the tuition at many of the private colleges, nearly 80 percent of students attending receive some form of financial aid assistance. Students from low-income families may even have 100 percent of their tuition and fees covered, as many private institutions now agree to meet full financial need. Students should carefully consider all costs and available financial aid before ruling out any potential college, whether public or private.
So, how do you decide whether a public or private college is a better choice? Here are some things to consider when finalizing your college options:
If you want a more personalized experience or access to your professors, seriously consider a private college, especially if you find it difficult to interact with larger groups or need more feedback on assignments and papers.
Do you want to surround yourself with people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and belief systems? You may find life at a public institution more fulfilling. Although private colleges often include students from all economic levels and tend to have higher international student populations, the opportunity to interact with a larger variety of students is often diminished simply because the overall size of the college is much smaller. You may also have fewer degree choices since many private colleges focus on a specific area, such as liberal arts or religious studies.
Students who plan to play a sport in college may also find that public colleges are a better fit. Although there are some private colleges, such as Notre Dame, that are known for their sports programs, few can compete with the larger public institutions. Private colleges may also offer fewer choices for casual athletes, as well.
This is perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when deciding on a college. Be sure to carefully review all costs associated with any college you are considering. In-state, public colleges tend to give more consideration to resident students and offer discounted tuition. On the other hand, many private colleges may offer to cover up to 100 percent of a student’s financial need, sometimes making it as affordable as a public institution.
Many Ivy League private colleges are located in the Northeast and Midwest. If you don't want to spend spring semesters walking through snow or layered under blankets to study, you may want to consider some of the public institutions available in the sunny South or along the California coastline. Carefully consider your tolerance for heat and cold when researching potential colleges.
There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the public versus private debate, since choosing a college is a personal decision. It’s important to take the time to consider what is important to you, looking at all aspects of your anticipated college experience. In the end, you must decide which type of college is the perfect fit for YOU.
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