What's The Difference? Private vs. Public Colleges

By By Brendan Laux - Morris County School of Technology

Is your choice college public or private? Will the type of school your pick affect your financial future?  Find out here.

As a rising high school junior, I’ve recently started the college hunt. With so many incredible choices, I figured shooting down one of the two aforementioned variables – public or private – would make the selection process easier. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea what the difference between the two actually was, or if eliminating one was a logical approach.

What Private and Public Means.

A public college is a school that is largely funded through public means, including taxes, and often has lower tuition overall then its private counterpart, as well as usually providing in-state residents a tuition break. A private college is a school that runs itself, much like a business. They normally have higher tuition costs on average, since this is their main source of income, but typically offer more scholarship opportunities.

Which Of The Two Can Provide You With A Brighter Financial Future?

It’s hard to say. According to College Board statistics, tuition costs factored in with room and board charges result in public, 4 year, in-state schools costing the student around $22 thousand on average, while private, 4 year schools cost upwards of $40 thousand. Lesser costs during school mean less debt after school, making this a favorable statistic for those looking to attend a public school.

However, also according to College Board, private schools offer anywhere between $12-25,000 in financial aid and grants, covering 40-80% of all costs on average, depending on the income level of the student’s family. Public schools on average offer just $2-10 thousand in aid and grants, covering 25-33% of all costs, again based on the family’s income.

Conclusion? It's Up To You.

According to the numerical averages, the benefits and pitfalls of private and public schools appear to more or less cancel each other out. And so, there is no outright conclusion as to which can provide you with a better financial future. Students coming from lower income homes might be better off at a private school if a scholarship or grant is offered or with a considerable financial aid package. Those from higher incomes households largely paying for school out-of-pocket may benefit from attending a public school with their low in-state tuition costs.

All in all, the choice is yours. A college’s public or private status alone doesn’t usually reflect the quality of the school; so while considering the type of institution is important, don’t make any rash decisions based on that alone. After you’ve applied to all the schools you’re interested in and find out which ones you’ve been accepted to, compare your options.  Which school will best foster the type of education and professional opportunities you are looking for?  What school is offering the most competitive financial assistance to you?  What will be the extra costs of traveling home if the school is far away? Consider all your options equally and only start nitpicking when it’s time to choose.

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