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In nearly every country, private and public colleges are different. In the United States, deciding what’s best requires a dynamic look at issues of cost, prestige, and overall fit.

  1. Cost

On average, private colleges are more expensive than public ones. However, averages can be deceptive.

Private schools charge nearly $10,000 more per year. However, average debt per borrower is only about $5,000 more. In part, this is due to the misleading nature of sticker prices– scholarships and grants often make posted tuition rates irrelevant.

Prices also greatly depend on the individual school. Berea College in Kentucky, for example, is a private school that is completely tuition-free!

Before deciding that a private school is too expensive for you, research its actual price and investigate potential scholarships.

  1. Prestige

Students often make the mistake of thinking that private U.S. colleges are more prestigious. This is in part because of the fame of the “ivy leagues,” a group of private schools that include Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

You will find, however, that there are also many prestigious public colleges. The University of California– Berkeley is the second best in the nation for business programs and #3 for engineering. The University of Michigan– Ann Arbor is #1 in both marketing and management.

If you’re an international student, there may be an added advantage of going to a big school with a state in its name. Even employers who are unfamiliar with U.S. colleges will have heard of California, Michigan, and Texas.

In contrast, private colleges may be smaller and have less recognizable names. For example, Williams College is #1 in the nation for Liberal Arts, but it only has 2000 students.

For you, advantages like a low student-to-faculty ratio and a solid curriculum may or may not outweigh the benefits of a well-known name.

  1. Overall Fit

When it comes to education, the best college is the one that provides you with the resources you need to learn, grow and jump-start a successful career. Some people do their best work when surrounded by friends. For others, it’s when they’re insulated from the stresses of competition or debt. Still others may find the opposite to be true. Most of us, though, need to consider other factors.

The US News and World Report ranks colleges by things like campus ethnic diversity, most students in fraternities, study abroad programs, and more. Other factors, like geography, religion, and class size, should also be considered.

Ultimately, the search for the perfect school takes time and research. Whether you choose a public or a private institution, the most important thing is to feel good about your choice.


Maija Wallace is a freelance writer for college admissions blogs. Her website is located at

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