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Public vs. private universities in the US: 4 key differences

When studying abroad in the United States, many factors can go into choosing a university to study at. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to make sure you are picking the right school for you. One of the biggest choices to make is what type of university you want to study abroad at - private or public
In the U.S. there are two main categories that schools fit into. A government subsidized public institution, and a private institution. Both of these university systems have their own advantages and disadvantages. We will go through the four key aspects of both types of schools so you can be sure you are picking your ideal university type.

Pictured: College of Charleston

One of the major things to consider when choosing an institution type is cost. Because you are most likely coming from abroad, you will not be qualified for in-state tuition for a public university. Although still cheaper than the average private school, you will be paying substantially more than your in-state counterpart. Keep in mind that this is without any financial aid, scholarships, or grants. Applying for these awards can dramatically change the costs for university.

Public University:
  • Average yearly tuition cost: $20,000-$25,000 (Out-of-state)
  • Average yearly total cost: $35,000-$40,000 (Including dorms, meals, books, etc.)

Private University:
  • Average yearly tuition cost: $30,000-$40,000 (can be higher than $50,000)
  • Average yearly total cost: $50,000-$70,000


Another thing to consider is the quality of education you will be getting. There is a myth that private colleges are more prestigious and exclusive than public schools. While this may be accurate for the most prestigious schools in the nation, overall, many public universities are on par with private ones. Quality of education also, will depend completely on the individual university, your major, and your academic goals. A school that is prestigious for someone else might not be prestigious for you because of these considerations. When looking into education quality, be sure to do your homework and do a quick web search to give you current-year rankings for all universities. These lists include both private and public institutions in the top 25.


Available majors is also a very important aspect to look at. Public schools are going to have a much more broad selection of academic programs they offer. While private schools will most likely have more specific major tracks for students. Just be sure to research your major field of studyand match up schools that fit all of the major requirements you need.


Life beyond graduation is also something to consider. When applying for jobs, the individual school you go to can have a huge impact on whether you get that interview, or that job. Especially in the US, the ranking of the school you went to could haunt you for the rest of your life (or make your life much easier). In some cases, especially in the extremes of the school rankings charts, it will indeed have a very strong impact. Being an Ivy League (Harvard / Yale / Columbia / Penn etc.) graduate allows many advantages and career opportunities and provides a network of peers who will be able to help you with business and personal development later on in your career. A good university serves as a proxy that you are a good job / academia candidate and will open many doors for you. There is also probably a strong correlation between a school being ranked as a top university and the actual quality of that school.

Overall both public and private universities have many similarities and differences. The most important thing is to make an informed decision when you consider your study abroad options. Do your research and talk to people who studied at the schools you are considering, whether they are public or private.


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