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The Pros and Cons of Attending a Private College

Updated on October 3, 2017
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Alexis is a former special education teacher who is now an in-home therapist. She enjoys traveling, writing, and playing the violin.

Libraries are an essential component of any college campus.  Often large libraries are located in the city, such as the New York Public Library in New York City.
Libraries are an essential component of any college campus. Often large libraries are located in the city, such as the New York Public Library in New York City.

Choosing a College

In my senior year of high school I was offered a free ride scholarship at a local community college. I took it and completed by first two years of college debt-free. Choosing my 4-year college to transfer to was a tricky choice. I didn’t want to go to a college where I was just another number. As a result, while going through a packet of colleges that accepted community college graduates without questions, I found a private college within 100 miles of where I lived. I started there two months later in the fall.

Going to a private college has its share of pros and cons (which will be outlined soon). There are ways it changed my life for the better, but there are aspects about it that I regret. Some things could’ve been prevented if I wasn’t like most 19 year olds who know nothing. That said, for graduate school I’m going to a public university. Going in, I’m trading the pros of going to a private college for the cons of a public university and vice versa.

(Pro or Con) What's in a Name?

The college I went to has a notable name in its niche, but it’s no Harvard. There is some merit in the name of the university or college you attend, but not as much as some like to think. That said, some of the most well known universities are private colleges. That said, there’s a school of thought that says unless a private college/university IS an Ivy league or renowned for an academic program, it isn’t worth it. However, most people don’t go to a less-known private school for the namesake.

(Con) Cost

For the last 3 years I’ve been steadily hacking away at my student loan debt with another 3 years remaining. It’s the biggest thing that I regret about going to a private college. Many of the people I went to college with, who graduated before me are still paying off debts and some people owe close to 100K! Private colleges usually do offer generous scholarship packages, which is a big pro. However, students should carefully choose if it is or isn’t financially feasible. My rule of thumb; don’t take out more than your projected first year salary (on the low end). The job market is tough and you don’t want to be waiting tables while paying off a $50,000 loan.

(Pro) Community

Fewer people means it’s possible for everyone to know everyone. That can be a bad thing, but I’m listing it as a pro because it makes it easier to make friends. Going into college I was shy. Thankfully, I found my niche through clubs and I’m still friends with several of the people I went to college with, 5 years later. Some remain among my closest friends and some I see once a week or talk to almost every day. Being in a small, tight-knit community also helped me break out of my shell. Wait, I was shy once?

Pros and Cons Table

 
Private College
Public College
Cost
More expensive
Less expensive
Class Size
Smaller, easier to have 1:1 interaction
Large. Some classes can have over 100 students
Community
Everyone knows everyone, tight-knit community is more likely
You can be just another face in the crowd
Name
Often less known, unless an Ivy League School
More likely to be well-known
Academics
Fewer Programs
More Programs

(Con) Limited Programs

This one can vary, but the average private school tends to have fewer academic programs and degrees. There were a number of times in my time that I wished I was at a public university just for the sheer amount of class options. This also can bleed into fewer options for clubs and organizations on campus. The advantage is that its easier to get to know people since club numbers are lower, but that is a pro and con.

(Pro) Class Size and Professor Time

Private colleges usually have a smaller student population, which means that you aren’t a number in a sea of students. Scheduling a meeting with a professor for me usually meant dropping into their office with no wait or line. Professors also knew my name and remembered the work that I did in their class.

In a public university, professors don’t necessarily remember someones name, even if they’ve had multiple classes with them. After all, some courses have over 100 students in them! Scheduling time with a professor or getting individual help can prove problematic as well.

(Pro or Con) Difficulty

I graduated college with a very high GPA, but I often felt my classes were too easy. I didn’t feel challenged in most courses. This is probably not true in every private college, but for mine it was too easy for me and I wasn’t mentally stimulated. Having taken some graduate level courses through a major public university, I didn’t find it overwhelming challenging, but I feel that the average public university has more expectations that the average private school. Ivy league colleges are in a different category as their academics are meant to be rigorous.

Closing Thoughts

There are pros and cons to both, but ultimately the decision is up to the individual. One size does not fit all and there are a lot of factors to consider when picking an undergraduate or graduate college. When choosing a college, the best strategy is to outline what you’re looking for in terms of cost, location, what you want out of college etc. Some cons are worth it and some pros are not worth it. If you went to college, did you attend a private or public college/university?

© 2017 Alexis

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