Categories: Choosing a School

Public vs. Private Schools: What’s the Difference?

Before applying to college, you’ll spend hours researching your top choices and your safety schools. In your search, you may see that the schools will be described as “private” or “public.” Public colleges are those owned and supervised by states, while private schools are just that, ones that are owned privately. When considering the types of universities, you want to apply to, you will want to know their fundamental differences. Below are what factors to consider when choosing between these types of institutions.


Tuition price is the most obvious difference between private and public colleges. Since public schools are funded via subsidies and taxes, they tend to be more affordable, but this isn’t always the case. For example, if you are an out-of-state student, you could face higher tuition prices for a state school than your in-state peers. Since the incentive for in-state students is higher for these schools, they have a discount compared to those who live in a neighboring state. Depending on the state, fees for out-of-state students can range anywhere between $16,000 and $38,000 higher than their in-state peers.

Private colleges are funded by donations and tuition fees. Many think of private schools as the Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia University. In fact, there is a large list of private schools including institutions such as Northeastern University, Rice University and Bowdoin College. The price of a private university is higher than that of a public college. The average public, in-state student pays about $9,970 in tuition versus a private college student paying an average of $34,740. Those who attend these schools count on the degree they will earn being well-worth the price.

Keep in mind that both types of schools can receive grants and can collect financial aid from students.

Acceptance rates

An acceptance rate is the percentage of students a school accepts from their application pool. These rates create a competitive nature between private schools and between students. Private colleges are known for their acceptance rates as many students compete to earn that prestigious degree on their resume. But acceptance rates may be low for many of these private schools because they have students from all over the world applying to get into their programs. A program with a 10% acceptance rate that receives 200,000 applications still has 20,000 accepted and going to their school. Public colleges have higher acceptance rates, because those that apply tend to be local or in the same region of the university. In this case, if 20,000 people apply and the school has a 40% acceptance rate, about 8,000 students are accepted.


Private and public universities also differ in size of classes and student population. Typically, private universities have both smaller classroom sizes and a smaller student population. Public universities tend to have more students and have a larger ratio of students to professor. The sizes of classrooms and those on campus varies from school to school, so if this is a major part of your decision making, you will want to do research on each school you are considering. Only want to be at a university with smaller class sizes? Per the U.S. News & World Report, you may want to consider these universities that have a majority of classes with fewer than 20 students.

Leah Bianchi :