Weigh Attending a U.S. Public or Private University

In the U.S., there is a difference between public and private colleges. Generally, a public school is predominantly funded by state governments, whereas private schools are funded through private contributions, donations and tuition.

Regardless of whether a school is public or private, international students should look at things they value in an institution, like academics, athletics or the social scene. There are a few differences between the two types that students might want to be aware of.

• Tuition: Being funded by public money means that public universities tend to have lower tuition rates than private universities, especially elite institutions. While the sticker price for a public school is generally lower than a private school, if you land a scholarship at a private school, your tuition could be substantially less.

It’s a myth that scholarships are harder to get for public universities; certain institutions will have scholarships specifically for international students, and a lot of scholarships are awarded to students regardless of what type of university they are attending.

• Campus life: Public universities tend to be much larger than private universities, which can mean there is a lot more happening on campus. You can get immersed in many different clubs, student organizations and societies. If you’re looking for a varied student experience focused on academics, athletics and a social life, a public university would be a great choice.

• Demographics: Public universities generally attract a diverse group of students, in part because they typically offer a wide variety of majors. This means that you’ll run into people from all over the country and from all walks of life, which makes your experience all the more interesting.

However, private universities tend to have a greater geographical diversity, since they don’t assess tuition due to residency. Students who are looking to study in their home state generally pay in-state tuition at their local public schools.

• Prestige and quality of education: There are great public universities, with top-notch faculty. However if you look at the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, the first 19 institutions are private. The Ivy League and many other private institutions carry a certain prestige.

But a lot of public universities are highly ranked, and having a lower tuition doesn’t necessarily mean that a school provides a lower-quality education. A public university can be a great option to get the best value for your money.

Your choice will depend on things like campus size, culture, costs, environment and academic specialties, which can’t be clearly defined under just the public or private label. There are small public schools with few majors and large private schools with a wide variety of majors.

Your choice could also be determined by the region you’re searching in. Private schools tend to be more common in the Northeast and West, whereas you’ll find a lot of public schools in the South and Midwest.

Public and private universities vary widely across the country and applying to one type does not mean eliminating the other. Consider applying to both public and private schools. The final decision on a university depends on the overall score an institution receives according to your priorities.

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