Public University versus Private University: What’s the Difference?

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The debate about public universities versus private universities is an old one.

Public University versus Private University

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There are some differences that set them apart and even though some private colleges may share similarities of a public college (and vice versa), for the majority of the time, the following characteristics hold true.


The biggest difference between public and private colleges usually lies in the price! A private university tends to run a little (or a lot) higher than a state-funded public university.

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While there are financial aid options, perhaps even institution-specific scholarships and/or grants, it’s usually a heftier price tag to start with — and funding can be slightly harder to come by.


From class size to campus acreage, public universities generally run much larger than the typical private college. Private schools often possess smaller classrooms and usually a more compact campus — letting you get to know your professors and other students. Also, choosing a professor at a smaller college is often easier as well.

Some students, however, like the vibe of a large college campus — there are that many more students with unique ideas to bring to the table! A large campus can provide plenty of on-campus options like campus movie theaters and restaurants, even transportation.


A public university usually offers a larger selection of classes, majors, even extracurriculars than a private university, which can be good news for the undecided college Freshman!

More class offerings give you the chance to sample possible career choices without having to transfer colleges if you change your mind down the line. On the other hand, a private university with a smaller selection of majors might be well known for its more specialized programs and majors – and can help you find your focus in the subject you care about.

What’s more, a growing number of accredited online colleges now offer many degree options for students.


It’s not uncommon for a private university to have a religious affiliation as well, like the University of Notre Dame (Catholic), Yeshiva College (Orthodox Jewish), or American University (Methodist) so if you aren’t religiously inclined, perhaps you would feel more comfortable at a non-affiliated public university or even a non-affiliated private university, like Marietta College or Cornell University.

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If a religiously affiliated college sounds good to you, you should have plenty of like-minded students to connect with.


There are some people that consider a private university a career boost from the start, regardless of how its programs rank nationally, based on that selective status. However, there are college admissions that are just as selective at public universities, too.

No matter direction you are thinking of going when choosing colleges – public or private, there is no better way to decide than the college visit! Keep your options open and don’t discount a college until you find out the facts for yourself: talk to students, sit in on a class, and think about what you want out of your college experience!

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.