The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Public vs. Private Colleges

Many factors go into the debate on public and private schools. The differences in community and culture carry over to the networks and relationships students build, and price tags may enhance or detract from a school’s appeal.


According to College Board, the average private four-year tuition is $26,273, compared to $7,020 for publics. However, out-of-state fees at publics are often high; out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan, for example, is $34,937. Not that all privates are unaffordable. About 19 percent of students in privates are attending institutions that charge tuitions below $19,000. Around two-thirds of all full-time undergraduates receive grant aid, with benefits averaging around $14,000 per student at private four-year institutions. “While UC students were storming around in protest of the increase in tuition …I was getting more aid from my school,” said MSJ alumnae Class of ‘09 and current USC student Sorah Yang. When taking cost into consideration, remember how much is affordable, as well as how much more (or less) an education at a private can benefit each student, compared to publics

Population Distribution

Publics cater to a wider population so, potentially speaking, would have more ethnic diversity, but privates also pay careful attention to diversity when recruiting. The high school GPA distribution may be different, however, for publics. Not everyone will want to be a Wall Street Banker or a doctor. At privates, there is diversity – just not the same. The high cost of privates discourages lower socioeconomic students from applying; scholarships given to the underprivileged are limited. Privates often attract a certain type of student, primarily appealing to someone particularly talented at music – like Julliard. Or someone whose intense focus is architecture – like Cal Poly.

Both types offer free entertainment and other activities. UCLA hosts an annual BruinBash extravaganza and the University of Chicago’s Scavenger Hunt garners national attention yearly. It may be more difficult to find housing at a large public university, whereas privates tend to be able to offer housing for all years. Both offer sorority/fraternity environments, although individual colleges have their own policies.  At the same time, some privates do not give freshmen as many housing choices, and do not allow them to have a car on campus or choose their dorm. Whereas this policy may keep students from becoming overwhelmed with choices, it increases their chances of being unhappy with living and transportation arrangements.


Academic intensity varies with the school. Although many believe that private school students are more competitive, the distinction between students lies in their departments and majors. Students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business or UC Berkeley’s Haas, typically called “A-list” students, look forward to jobs at Fortune 500 companies whereas other business students may not be as ambitious. The schoolwork and difficulty of the courses reflect these distinctions.

Since private school campuses are typically smaller and economically secure, they offer smaller class sizes, as few as nine students per professor, which allows more student-professor interaction and a more personal learning experience. At private schools, professors often refer to their students by name, and many students at Santa Clara University have their professors’ cell phone numbers.

In contrast, public school lecture halls can range from 100-500 students per class, but as a benefit, large universities can offer students huge and renowned facilities and professors who are leaders in their fields.


CSU Long Beach President F. Alexander argues that only the most elite privates, such as Ivy Leagues, have significant benefits for networking. He says that the impression that privates create better networks exists only for public relations. And while private college alumni may be better networked, like USC’s “Trojan family,” some networks exist more to fund endowments than opportunities.

Networking is up to the student, not the college. That is also why alumni networks are usually well established at competitive public colleges. Combined with the increased diversity and larger student body, publics may actually offer more networking opportunities – just ones that are harder to grab. Michael Chang, a UC Berkeley engineering student, said: “If I went to a private technical college, there wouldn’t be this kind of an environment. Here, you find more diversity, more people…”

In the end, alumni networks depend as much on college-specific circumstances (culture, student competitiveness, etc.) as the school’s public or private standing. A school’s location, especially for big-city colleges like Columbia and Georgetown, may also make as much difference as its clubs or classes.

Written by Christine Cheng, Tanu Patel, Ginger Werner & Raymond Zhong
Mar 19, 2010 at 01:31 PM

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