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What Are Private Colleges?

Bold.org Editorial Team

Top experts in a variety of areas

About private colleges

Private colleges are institutions that are privately funded. Most of their funding comes from donations and tuition, as opposed to taxes and federal funding. Private colleges include liberal arts colleges, religious colleges, fine arts colleges, and more. Some private institutions even focus on a specific field like medicine or business.

If you are considering applying to a private university, it is important that you consider all of the facts surrounding private colleges and universities.

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Private vs. public college

While public colleges and universities are funded by the government, private colleges and universities rely more on tuition and endowments. Private institutions are often smaller than public institutions, which means that they have smaller class sizes. Because of their smaller size, though, many private colleges and universities offer fewer degree programs.

Many public universities have a large number of in-state students due to the lower costs of in-state tuition. Some public universities are even required to accept a certain percentage of students from their state in order to keep their funding. For out-of-state and international students, this means that there are fewer spots available, making it competitive for students who are not from the state. Private colleges tend to be less biased towards students from in or outside of their state.

Because they do not get money from the government, private colleges tend to cost more. The average in-state tuition at public colleges is $8,487 while the out-of-state tuition is $18,809. At private nonprofit colleges, the average tuition is $30,065. At for-profit private colleges, the tuition is $17,418.

If you are considering attending a private university, it is important that you assess the cost of tuition and fees, your own finances, and the financial aid available to you. While there is a substantial difference in the average cost between private and public colleges, private colleges offer a fair amount of financial aid, which may affect your decision on which school to attend.

After factoring in need-based and merit-based scholarships, sometimes private colleges can have a cost similar to or even superior to public universities. If you are applying to private schools, consider contacting the office of financial aid to see what sorts of financial support you can receive.

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What is a private non-profit college?

Private colleges can be either for-profit or nonprofit. Nonprofit private colleges focus on providing students with quality education without earning a profit. All of the tuition fees, endowments, and other earnings from a private college's tuition are reinvested into the institution. They use this money to pay for course development, instructors, and facilities.

Schools like MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell are examples of private schools that are non-profit.

What is a private for-profit college?

While nonprofit private colleges do not earn a profit from their tuition and alumni donations, for-profit colleges are run like businesses. These colleges aim to earn a profit from students' education, meaning that for-profit colleges often prioritize financial dividends and the needs of stakeholders.

For-profit colleges can use their profit for non-educational purposes, often making it more difficult for their students to get a quality education and pay off their debt. While for-profit colleges only enroll 10 percent of students, they account for half of all student-loan defaults. Still, accredited for-profit schools can still be a good option, as they usually offer career-based and occupational training programs.

Schools like Grand Canyon University, Colorado Technical University, Capella University, and Northcentral University are all examples of private schools that are for-profit institutions.

Cost of private college

At for-profit private colleges, the tuition averages $17,418. Although this is lower than the average tuition at private nonprofit colleges, $30,065, for-profit colleges have a large range of prices and fewer scholarships.

Although the tuition may be higher at private colleges, financial aid can level the playing field. Private institutions provided an average of $23,080 in financial aid, covering approximately 61% of tuition. Students at private institutions paid a net price of $14,990 after grants.

Is private college worth it?

The value of a college depends on what you are looking for. Ask yourself what is important to you when considering a college or university.

Do you care about size? If you like the idea of a big campus with a lot of people, a public university may be a great choice. If you thrive in smaller classes, you might consider a private university or college.

Do you care about the cost of your program? Regardless of whether you are in-state or out-of-state, public universities are likely going to cost less. However, if cost is not a major concern or if the private schools that you're interested in have a large number of scholarships and grants, it would be beneficial to consider private colleges.

Do you care about your major? If you have a specific major, degree, or program in mind, see if the private universities on your list offer it before applying. If they do not, consider some public universities, as they will have more options and a greater number of faculty.

Do you care about the return on your investment? Four-year graduation rates tend to be highest among private schools. Additionally, at a private nonprofit college, the economic gain from a four-year degree averages $838,000. When compared to the economic gain at private for-profit colleges, $551,000, and public colleges, $765,000, private nonprofit colleges earn the most money on average after graduation.

Regardless of what you are looking for, there are plenty of options among the 3,982 private and public universities.

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Frequently asked questions about private colleges

Is private college better than public college?

The quality of a college depends on the specific school that you attend rather than just the type of institution it is. While many private universities have plenty of benefits such as small class sizes, post-graduation earnings, and scholarship opportunities, it is important for students to determine what is best for their specific situation.

For example, if you want a large school environment with more emphasis on athletics or Greek life, a public school may be a better fit than a private institution. However, both public and private colleges have a variety of opportunities. Each school is different, so consider what qualities are most important so you can make the best decision.

In effect, if you are deciding between different private and public colleges, you should look into the individual benefits and drawbacks of each institution. Things like cost, class size, financial aid, location, etc. will all play an important role in determining your educational experience.

Can you get federal loans for private college?

Yes, you can get federal loans when you attend a private college. Submit the FAFSA to find out what federal student loans you can get. Due to the high cost of many private colleges, you may also be considering taking out private loans to cover your costs. Federal loans are often preferable as they typically have more benefits, such as lower interest and flexible repayment plans.

Is private college harder than public college?

While many people consider private colleges and universities as more prestigious than public colleges, how difficult it is to earn a degree truly depends on the school. Top private colleges are often harder to get into, as they have lower admissions rates than public colleges. Once you get into a private college, though, the difficulty of your education depends on your major and the school that you attend.

There are also plenty of public colleges that have high academic quality and rank among the top universities in the country, so don't let the public status of a school discourage you from applying.

Furthermore, some of the top private schools in the world have grade deflation, meaning that it can be easier to receive higher grades at these institutions rather than at public universities where there is oftentimes grade inflation. Whatever the case, the difficulty of private and public colleges cannot be generalized, so you should research the education at each individual institute that interests you.