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What are the benefits of attending a public university?

    If you’re deciding which college to attend, you may run into trying to figure out whether a public or private college or university is a better fit for you.

    Continue reading as we explore what a public college or university is, its potential advantages, and some potential downsides to consider.

    What’s a public college or university?

    Every state in the U.S. has at least one public college or university. Public colleges and universities in the U.S. have historically been funded primarily by state governments. While these colleges and universities are all still partly funded by state governments, their primary funding isn’t always from state governments anymore — although this varies from school to school.

    These colleges and universities usually offer in-state students reduced tuition – or “in-state tuition” – because the state taxes of in-state attendees have subsidized these schools. Out-of-state students don’t receive this reduced tuition.

    Beyond public universities, there are also public liberal arts colleges in the U.S. Community colleges — or two-year colleges — are also generally public colleges in the U.S. These colleges typically offer associate degrees. They also sometimes offer other degrees.

    Examples of public colleges and universities:

    • University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
    • University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)
    • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
    • University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
    • Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA)
    • New College of Florida (Sarasota, FL)
    • Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (North Adams, MA)
    • University of Minnesota, Morris (Morris, MN)

    What’s a private college or university?

    Private colleges and universities operate as educational nonprofit organizations or for-profit corporations. They don’t receive the primary bulk of their funding from state governments like public colleges and universities historically have. There are many more private colleges and universities in the U.S. than public ones.

    Examples of private colleges and universities:

    • Harvard University (Boston, MA)
    • New York University (New York, NY)
    • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
    • Brown University (Providence, RI)
    • Rice University (Houston, TX)
    • Amherst College (Amherst, MA)
    • Williams College (Williamstown, MA)
    • Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, MA)

    Potential benefits of attending a public college or university

    Both public and private colleges and universities can provide you with a quality education and help you propel forward in your career. Still, choosing where to go to college is a big decision, and it’s best to look at your situation, what you want to study, how much financial aid you receive from each school you get accepted to, and other factors that are important to you when making the decision.

    Below are some potential benefits of attending a public college or university to consider when making this decision.

    Potentially lower tuition

    Public colleges and universities often have lower tuition rates for in-state residents, which can make higher education more accessible and affordable. In comparison, private universities offer the same tuition rates regardless of whether students live in the same state as the college or university or in a different state. Keep in mind this refers to listed tuition, and many students pay less than listed tuition because of financial aid.

    Potentially large student bodies

    Even though some public colleges and universities have a smaller student body, many public colleges and universities are known for their large student bodies. This can come with certain benefits. A large student population often means more extracurricular activities, more ways to get involved on campus, and more networking opportunities.

    Extensive range of student life activities

    The large student bodies that often exist at public colleges or universities also generally translate into an extensive range of student extracurricular activities for every kind of interest. A capella groups, numerous student newspapers, political organizations — if you can think of it, it might just exist.

    Wide variety of majors

    Public colleges and universities typically offer various academic programs and majors, providing students with diverse options to pursue their interests and future career goals.

    Potential downsides of attending a public college or university

    The features of public colleges and universities may not be the best fit for every student. For example, since public colleges and universities tend to have larger student populations, that might translate into larger class sizes and less individualized attention from professors and faculty members.

    Here are some of the potential downsides to consider when it comes to attending a public college or university.

    Not enough individualized academic attention

    While this isn’t always the case, some private colleges and universities offer small class sizes and more individualized attention to students. The flip side is that public colleges and universities sometimes don’t provide as much individualized academic attention (although this depends on the school).

    Might not admit students automatically to specific majors

    Because the student body is so large at some public colleges and universities, some of these schools require that students apply to certain competitive majors. This can be true at some private colleges and universities, but usually less so.

    It might be challenging to navigate

    Large institutions, generally speaking, aren’t always easy to navigate. While this isn’t always the case for public colleges and universities, it can be true and is worth considering.

    What to consider when deciding between a private and public college or university

    When narrowing down your search of where to apply or deciding where to attend, here are a few factors you should consider when it comes to private and public colleges and universities.

    • Which option will cost you more: If affordability is a factor for you, the best way to decide which type of college or university will be more affordable is to compare student aid award letters, which detail the amount of financial aid a college or university can offer you. Also, consider factors such as living expenses and travel expenses when weighing the decision.
    • Look into your desired major or discipline at the schools you’re considering: If you have a firm idea of what major or discipline you want to pursue, research that major or discipline at the schools you’re considering to compare the opportunities.
    • Weigh the school environments: Do your due diligence in researching schools, looking into campus life, class sizes, and diversity to see which kind of environment would be a better fit for you.

    Final thoughts

    If you’re applying to or have already applied to both public and private colleges and universities, it’s important to weigh both to see which will ultimately be better for your situation. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.