Why Choose a Private College or University?
While private schools generally cost more, they also offer an active alumni network, a strong sense of campus community, and, for students at religious institutions, a faith-based curriculum.
Students also choose private colleges because of the personalized education and small class sizes.
Statista reports that out of the nearly 19 million students enrolled in college in 2020, some 5.12 million attended private schools. Courses at private colleges tend to offer a more personalized experience and better access to instructors, faculty, and staff.
This intimate environment can foster positive student outcomes and more opportunities for mentorships, fellowships, and leadership positions on and off campus.
Pros and Cons of Private Colleges and Universities
Pros of Private Schools
Tight-knit alumni associations
More grants and scholarships available to students because of large endowment funds
Alternative teaching methods and creative class structures
Religious-influenced education that may suit a student’s learning preferences
Higher prestige and quality of education, depending on the school
Small private colleges may have less competition for popular courses
Cons of Private Schools
Smaller campus life and less social opportunities
Lacks state or federal regulation
Not every student prefers religious-required curriculum
More selective admissions with lower admission rate
Fewer degrees and programs available to students
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What Are the Admission Requirements for a Private College or University?
The college admission process looks similar at private and public schools. Prospective students always submit applications and fees, usually through an online portal. Colleges also ask for additional materials such as official transcripts, personal statement essays, and letters of recommendation from professors, counselors, and employers.
The admissions rate often differs between private and public colleges. According to 2019 data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, private colleges tend to have lower admission rates than their public counterparts.
This trend, coupled with lower enrollment rates, makes the application process more competitive. Specific admissions details depend on a student’s status as a first-year student, transfer student, or international student.
Colleges may require standardized test scores, such as the ACT or SAT exams for first-year students. Entrance exams, required for international students and students who do not meet GPA requirements, test a student’s proficiency in English and math.
How Do I Choose a Private College or University?
Private colleges almost always cost more than public universities. According to NCES, the average cost of tuition and fees at a private four-year college came to $32,769 in 2019-2020, up from $31,883 the year before. Room and board in 2019-2020 cost students an average of $13,162 at private schools. International fees can make attending private college even more expensive.
Despite common misconceptions about paying for college, students should understand that the “sticker price” for college does not reflect the actual costs, which can be higher or lower. The total cost of college includes hidden costs such as health insurance and student health center fees, technology fees, student activity fees, books and materials, transportation, and parking fees.
Institutional accreditation serves as a quality assurance that a college meets educational standards. Accreditation happens when colleges voluntarily get reviewed by independent accrediting agencies. Students often need to attend accredited schools to transfer credits or go to graduate school.
Much like the institutional accreditation process, specific programs can show that they meet industry standards through programmatic accreditation. In industries like healthcare and education, graduates often need to attend accredited programs to get professional certification or find a job.
Many students relocate to different cities, states, and even other countries for college.
Students who go to college close to home have the benefit of a shorter commute, which saves money and time. However, going to college nearby also means you may not get the dorm experience and may miss out on campus activities.
Online learners can often earn a degree without having to relocate, or even travel to campus at all. For private school students, location may matter less because it does not impact in-state tuition rates like at a public university.
Student support services can help you make the most of your college experience and set you up for success after graduation.
Colleges should offer academic and career advising to help new students map out their college journey and pick the right courses. Math and writing tutors offer students in-person and remote help at no cost. Students may also be able to find mentorship opportunities, networking opportunities, and internships.
Alumni associations also help graduates continue to make connections for social and career opportunities years after college.
Frequently Asked Questions About Private Colleges and Universities
Are private colleges and universities better than public schools?
Many private colleges hold a lot of prestige, but public colleges also have excellent reputations. Students should pick a college based on what matters to them and their learning style. Deciding factors include cost, location, program offerings, and size.
Private colleges typically have a smaller student body, which means fewer people on campus and in the classroom. People who enjoy more one-on-one time with professors and a small college atmosphere will prefer a private university.
Large public universities tend to offer a livelier campus life and more diverse student body. Public colleges also tend to have more majors, research funding, and extracurricular activities.
Is a private college or university worth it?
It could be. Between 2010-2011 and 2020-2021, tuition and fees increased from $8,500-$9,400 at public four-year schools. During that time, tuition and fees increased from $31,600-$35,900 at private nonprofit four-year colleges.
While a private college or university often costs more, students can have more one-on-one mentoring opportunities with faculty and instructors. The personalized attention and education at a private college may help students graduate on time and launch their careers faster.
According to 2019 data from NCES, 49.1% of students at private nonprofit colleges and 25.5% of students at for-profit colleges graduated within four years, compared to 36.3% of undergraduates at public colleges.
How many private colleges are there in California?
According to NCES, California has 258 private four-year colleges, including 177 private nonprofit colleges and 81 private for-profit schools. The state has 125 two-year private colleges and 187 “less-than-two-year”colleges, or vocational schools.
Students can pick from large private colleges such as the University of Southern California near downtown Los Angeles with a student body of around 49,500. Or, they may prefer smaller private institutions such as Scripps College in Claremont, with a total enrollment of around 1,080 undergraduate and 20 graduate students.
Why are private colleges so expensive?
Private colleges do not receive as much federal and state funding as public colleges. Instead, the bulk of funding dollars comes from tuition and private donations, which allows them to have more autonomy in their funding decisions.
However, private schools also charge more than public colleges because they rely heavily on these funding sources. That said, private colleges also offer larger financial aid packages to students based on merit.
Tuition at private colleges varies widely from state to state. In the 2019-2020 school year, private colleges in Massachusetts charged an average of $47,980 for tuition and fees —the highest rate in the country. Meanwhile, private institutions in Idaho charged an average of $6,429 for tuition and fees during that same year.
Can I get more scholarship money at a private university?
Students often don’t consider private colleges because of the sticker price, which can be misleading. Unlike public universities, private universities often provide more financial aid to students based on their merit, not financial need.
Most first-time undergraduate students receive grants and loans. These forms of financial aid have increased from 2009-2010 to 2019-2020. Public colleges awarded 85% of first-time undergraduates aid in 2019-2020, compared to 90% at private nonprofit colleges and 87% at private for-profit institutions. Private colleges also offer often-generous scholarships that students do not need to repay.