Difference between Public and Private Colleges

Updated on May 27, 2017

Choosing between a public and private college can be quite daunting as attending either one has its pros and cons worth spending a lot of thought on. This article highlights the key differences between the two.


A typical classroom in a public college

Public colleges are learning institutions that are funded by the state government. Students who attend a public college in their own state enjoy tuition breaks. It is also typically easier for in-state residents to get admitted to a public college in their own state. Out-of-state students may not be entitled to these perks, but some states have some form of agreement with other nearby states to rectify this issue.

Public colleges usually have a large and diverse student population, which also means a plethora of student organizations one can join. This also translates to bigger classes. Public colleges have an average class size of 60 students. This can be an issue for students who prefer to get up close and personal with their professors. It is important to note, though, that some public colleges offer smaller classes to qualified students. More students coming in also means more courses can be offered in public colleges and universities.

Private colleges
A women’s class in a private college in Minnesota

Private colleges are learning institutions that are supported by tuition and donations from friends, alumni, and private individuals. Depending on the school, private colleges are typically synonymous to high costs and tuition fees. That said, private colleges often offer better financial aid to encourage more students to their institution. To people who hold on to the expression “you get what you pay for,” higher tuition is a good thing. Moreover, people generally subscribe to the fact that a degree from an expensive private college provides an individual with more opportunities and a better return on investment.

Expect smaller classes as private colleges have an average class size of 15 students. This also indicates a lower student population and a handful of student organizations. However, for students who want to be able to talk and have discussions with their professors, private colleges can usually offer that personal touch and attention. It is also highly likely for students in a private college to enjoy a close-knit community. Given the low student population, it’s common for private colleges to offer a limited number of courses. This means fewer student organizations to get into but more time to pour into studying.

Public vs Private Colleges

So, what’s the difference between public and private colleges? The main difference is the fact that public colleges are usually funded by state governments while private colleges are supported by tuition and donations from friends and alumni, and endowments from private individuals. From here, more comparisons can be inferred.

Public colleges and universities are less expensive, and this attracts more students to enroll. Thus, public colleges tend to have a larger student population compared to the more expensive private colleges. With a bigger population, more courses are typically offered, classes are bigger, and there are more student organizations in public colleges than their private counterparts. However, a smaller class size mean students can freely interact with members of the academe in private schools. It’s also a popular belief that a graduate from a private college has brighter opportunities. Public colleges, being state-funded, are notorious for their bureaucratic red tape.

Comparison Chart

Public CollegesPrivate Colleges
Funded mainly by the stateFunded by tuition, donations from friends, alumni, and private individuals
Affordable tuitionExpensive tuition
Higher student populationLower student population


Here’s an interesting discussion about public colleges and private colleges.