If I decide to attend college, does it matter which college I attend? What is the difference between a public and a private institution?
Every college, technical school and university is uniquely different. Your choices between a public or private institution, large or small college setting, regional or top tier school will be based on a variety of factors. Perhaps you are one who would enjoy a small college campus with small class sizes that provide more access to your professors. Maybe you prefer a large university setting in a big city that can provide a thriving social scene in addition to a good academic education. Or maybe you prefer to attend a recognizable Ivy League institution. There is no bad choice, only the right choice for you, your financial situation, your social preferences and your learning style. Both large universities and small colleges have their pros and cons. And just because a private college education costs a great deal more doesn’t mean the quality of education is superior to that of a public institution. When debating your college setting, consider the following issues as you decide which type of school is best for you.
- Name Recognition – Large universities have greater name recognition than small colleges simply because they have more alumni around the world, they are more likely to have NCAA Division I athletic teams with televised games, and the faculty at research-centric institutions often publish more works and appear in the news at a greater level. If name recognition is important to you or your field of interest, perhaps a larger university setting is right for you.
- Professional Programs – You might find more robust undergraduate professional programs in areas such as business and engineering at a large university.
- Class Size - At a liberal arts college, you're more likely to have small classes, even if the student / faculty ratio is higher than at a large research university. You’ll find far fewer giant freshmen lecture classes at a small college than a large university. In general, small colleges have a much more student-centered approach to education and offer more access to professors than large universities can. If you can learn better in a small-classroom setting, this might steer your decision toward a smaller educational environment.
- Classroom Discussion - At a small college you might find more opportunity to speak out, ask questions, and engage the professors and students in debate. If you prefer this type of learning style, a small academic setting might be right for you.
- Graduate Instructors – Many small educational institutions do nothave graduate programs, so you are not likely to be taught by graduate teaching students.
- Athletics - If athletics or being part of a largely known athletic team environment is important to you, you should choose a large university setting with Division I teams. The Division III games of a small school are often fun social outings, but the experience is entirely different.
- Leadership Opportunities At a small college, you might find you have less competition obtaining leadership positions in student government and organizations. It might also be much easier to make a difference on campus. If you have a lot of initiative, you can really stand out at a small school in a way you might not at a large university.
- Academic Advising -At many large universities, advising is handled through a central advising office, whereas at small colleges, the advising is often handled by professors. With small college advising, your advisor is more likely to know you personally and be able to provide meaningful career guidance.
- Anonymity – If you enjoy anonymity and prefer not to stand out in a crowd, it’s much easier to blend in at a large university.
- Cost – Cost might play a large role in your decision to attend a specific type of college. Tuition and room and board at a private four-year college costs in excess of $30,000 a year on average. This compares to an average four-year, in-state public university rate of $15,000 per year or a community college rate of approximately $3,500 per year.