Finding the Right College

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Colleges and universities fall into two main categories: public state universities and private liberal arts colleges. These institutions are quite different in many aspects.

Choosing between a private and public university will depend upon your desired college experience and your financial capabilities.

Characteristics of State Universities

Lower tuition at public schools: A big advantage of public universities is their affordability. Tuition at a state school will still cost several thousand dollars a year, but this is a bargain compared to private schools that charge tens of thousands of dollars.

Vibrant campus life: Public schools typically have large and diverse student bodies that participate in dozens of clubs and extracurricular activities. If you want to be part of a campus that provides many diversions from academic drudgery then look to a public school.

Limited enrollment in classes: A large student body means thousands of students who need to take the same classes. This often creates limited enrollment for many classes. Register for your classes at the first opportunity. Putting off your registration can mean that will you will not be able to graduate in four years.

Faculty provide hands-off learning: Conducting research is the top priority for most faculty at pubic universities; teaching is secondary. Nevertheless, faculty are often required to teach several hundred students each semester. As a result, lectures can be mediocre. Don’t expect them to pamper you; professors will present the material but they will expect you to master it on your own. Interactions with instructors will be more impersonal than at a private college.

Prepare to be a number, not a name: The sheer size of most public universities means students are somewhat anonymous on campus. Expect to have many large lectures with hundreds of students. Class sizes may be 30 or more even in your final years of college when you take specialty courses.

Involvement in research opportunities: If you are motivated, many professors are willing to let undergraduate students work in their labs on research projects. It is a great way to discover if you really like your major.

Characteristics of Private Colleges:  

Academic excellence: Private colleges emphasize learning and the top priority for most faculty is to achieve excellence in the classroom. Students are the top priority for private schools and faculty strive to cultivate an atmosphere of learning. As a result, classes tend to be smaller (although there will always be some large lectures) and students communicate frequently with professors in and out of class interactions. Expect a demanding workload but also encouragement and support from the faculty.

Demanding work schedules: Expectations are high at private schools and instructors push students to meet those standards. The heavy workload will likely interfere with extracurricular activities or a part time job. But, if quality education is your only criteria for selecting a school, then go to a private college.

Higher tuition at private schools: Expect to pay more at a private college. These schools do not receive funding from the state government so expenses must be covered with tuition and fees. However, students often pay less than the listed tuition price because private colleges award grants, scholarships, or other financial incentives to high achieving students. If you have a good GPA and high SAT scores then consider applying to a private college.