Private vs. Public University: What's the difference?

college buildingThe biggest difference between private and public universities is where the funding comes from:


Public universities receive funding from the government and you will get a discount on tuition if you live in that state. Public schools will give preference to residents of that state. If you attend a public university in another state, you won't receive the tuition discount and it'll be a bit more difficult to get in.


You can also get a discount in other states because of reciprocity agreements. This means that states in a certain region form an alliance to give discounted tuition to students from those states. It won't be as cheap as in-state tuition, but you'll be able to get a good deal on public universities outside your hometown. Check online to see if your state is a part of a reciprocity agreement.


Public colleges and universities also tend to be bigger than private ones, so they'll have a larger selection of classes and majors, and more resources and opportunities available to students.

Private universities do not receive funding from the government. They get money through tuition, donations, and an endowment. Another key difference is that private colleges and universities can have a religious focus. Public ones must comply with specific laws and regulations to receive funding.


Most private universities are non-profits, meaning that they don't make money from the students (besides paying for salaries, rental of buildings, and other necessary costs). There are a few private colleges and universities that are for-profit, and they are generally more expensive because they are essentially run like a business. For-profit schools are known for marketing to low-income students who often end up taking out more loans than they can realistically handle. A for-profit school could still be a good match, but you should check out this list so you're aware if the college is for-profit.


When you're making your college list, don't apply to just public or to just private schools. Public universities usually have a smaller sticker price, but private colleges and universities often have more money to give to students in scholarships and grants. Wait until you receive your financial aid package to decide which school you can realistically afford.


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