Public vs Private Colleges: 4 Myths That Are (Kinda) True

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Andy Wang
Andy Wang

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Throughout college admissions history, there has been an ongoing debate regarding the relative merits of public vs. private colleges. In this blog, we will look at a few myths regarding the whole public vs. private colleges debate. For each, we will evaluate the truth behind them. From class registration, to class sizes, to living standards, to alumni networks; there does seem to be some truth to some of the major beliefs about these institutions. 

Public vs. Private Class Registration:

When it comes to registering for classes, there has long been a stigma that students at private schools have it “too easy.” At private schools, students are supposed to have less trouble getting the classes they want, in comparison to their public school counterparts. Now, depending on the school? There seems to be a degree of truth to that assumption.

Particularly at larger research universities, such as Berkeley, it seems to be common for classes to fill up too fast. Simply the school’s scale makes it difficult for students to get their class of choice.

A characteristic like this is important when thinking about public vs. private schools; especially leaning toward public. It means that large-campus schools aren’t the best choice for students who aren’t always on top of all of their responsibilities. You may miss out on enrollment times and be unable to sign up for important or required classes.

Public vs. Private Class Sizes:

Directly related to class registration, we can next discuss the class size issue. There is a common belief that public schools, by virtue of having larger student populations, will have larger class sizes. Again, this belief seems rooted in some degree of fact.

Looking at this article that examines the average class size of 90 national universities, 21 of the top 25 schools for smallest class sizes are private institutions.

When comparing private and public schools, class size is something you might want to consider. For students who struggle without personal connection with their instructors, this factor might be critical; but for others who thrive with independence, this might be irrelevant to their college success. 

Public vs. Private Living Standards:

This and the next point are subject to a bit more debate and controversy than the previous two points. The myth goes that due to the higher cost of attendance, private schools tend to provide better on-campus living conditions for their students. While this is a reasonable assumption, the actual condition will vary depending on the location of the school.

A prime example of this is USC. While the campus itself is very nice, it’s also surrounded by a very unsafe part of South Central LA. So while the campus life itself may be luxurious, the definition of “higher living standard is up to interpretation. This also depends on if an applicant is factoring in what goes around off-campus.

Similarly, one might want to consider what higher living conditions might mean regionally; air conditioning, for instance, may be irrelevant for a school in the northeast. But for a school in the deep south, some may view it as fairly important for comfortable living.

Alumni Networks:

When you think of the whole private vs. public school debate, one of the consistent pro-private arguments is that private schools tend to have stronger alumni networks. One of the most commonly used examples of this is USC’s Trojan Network, which features immense amounts of networking opportunities with recruiters and alumni. While some programs in certain public schools have similar strength within their connections (see Berkeley’s Haas), there is usually a stronger alumni network at the private schools. (Note: This could be a factor of smaller school sizes as well as higher endowments which leads to more networking events and opportunities).

While the whole private vs. public school debate is sometimes blown out of proportion, there are certain factors that applicants should be aware of when they’re deciding which schools to look into. That being said, there are certain myths about private vs. public schools that are often false that applicants should be aware of. This will be tackled in my next blog post.

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