Public vs Private Universities

There are many misconceptions about public vs private universities. Many students think that private universities are the same as private high schools and tend to stray away from them. I am here to clarify the difference between the two and help you decide which type of university is right for you.

By: Katelyn Pramberger, Political Science and Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, 2023



The main difference between public and private universities is how they are funded. State residents pay taxes to fund their state’s public universities. Thus, if you attend an in-state university, the government covers part of your tuition. This is why tuition tends to be cheaper for in-state residents at public universities. On the other hand, private universities are funded by private investors and students must cover the cost of attendance without money from the state. This can make attending a private university more expensive. The average cost of attendance for private universities is $25,914 vs public universities it is $12,383. That said, attending a public university out-of-state is more expensive with tuition fees around $21,184,383. 

That said, private universities offer many scholarships and forms of financial aid that greatly reduce the cost of attendance. Many Ivy League schools are “Need Blind” which means they do not see your financial need in your application. Many private universities also meet 100% of demonstrated need, which can make attending a private university just as affordable as a public university.

Overall: Public universities, especially when you are an in-state resident, are much more affordable than private universities. That said, financial aid and scholarships from private universities are very common and can greatly reduce tuition cost.


Public universities tend to have a larger student body than private universities. Because of this, private universities tend to have smaller class sizes which allows for more 1 on 1 interaction with professors. That said, because of the large number of students at public universities, they usually have a wider range of courses and degrees while private universities have fewer choices but more customizable and close-knit courses.

Private universities tend to have better facilities due to their large amount of donors. That said, when it comes to research facilities, public universities take the gold.

Overall: public universities have larger class sizes, less 1 on 1 time with professors but also more diverse courses and research opportunities. On the other hand, private universities have smaller class sizes, more 1 on 1 time with professors but less diverse courses (although many are customizable) and great facilities.


When it comes to campus life, public universities tend to be very spirited. They have a lot of extracurricular activities, especially involving Greek Life, and very competitive sports teams. They usually have very big parties and social scenes. That said, private universities tend to be smaller and a little quieter and they focus a bit more on academics than sports. This varies school-to-school, however.

When it comes to diversity, public universities tend to be filled with mostly in-state students while private colleges attract students from across the country and world. 

Overall: Public universities tend to have more of a social/party culture and less demographic diversity and private colleges tend to be more academically oriented and demographically diverse.


All in all, it is up to you in which type of university you decide to apply to! Good luck!

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