Exploring Public and Private Schools

Welcome back to your EDGE College Resource blog! There are a lot of options when it comes to higher education, and today, three of our alumni will be discussing the differences between public and private schools.

Today’s bloggers are Chloe Gentile-Montgomery, 2015 EDGE alum and current student at Santa Clara University, Raquel Mendoza, 2014 EDGE alum and Notre Dame de Namur student, and LeeAnn Patrick, 2009 EDGE alum and UCLA graduate.

What are Public and Private schools? What’s the difference?

Chloe: Public schools are schools that are funded by the government, while private schools are funded, well, privately through donations and tuition. Public schools usually have more affordable tuition than private schools, however private schools may be able to be more flexible with you when it comes to financial aid.

Why is it important to know the difference between Public and Private Schools? Why should we care?

Chloe: It’s important to know the difference between public and private schools because they are very different. Public schools are usually funded by the state and generally have a much larger student body and class sizes than private schools (although this is not true in all cases; there are some small public schools like Sonoma State and some large private schools like USC). In my experience, private schools were able to give me more financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants (which you don’t need to pay back) than public schools even though the public schools had cheaper tuition.

Raquel: When looking at the right college for you, it’s important to make sure you are aware of the differences between public and private schools. Public schools cover the community college system, if you want to get an AA before you go on to get a bachelor’s degree. Often times, public colleges/universities ofter cheaper tuition options, whereas the tuition at a private college/university is typically significantly higher. That being said, in my experience, there may be more scholarship and financial aid help at a smaller, private school.

What is your personal experience with this topic?

Chloe: When I applied to college I only applied to two private schools and 8 or 9 public schools. I was rejected from one private school, but I ended up attending the other private I applied to because I was offered a scholarship that covered the full cost of tuition. While I did love some of the public schools I applied and was accepted into, they ended up not making sense for me financially. I urge you to apply to both kinds of schools and see what comes your way, as everyone’s experience is different. I wished I had applied to more private schools because I really value small class sizes and the personal feel of them, but I had the impression that I would be unable to afford them, so don’t avoid applying somewhere because of the price tag, you never know what may happen.

Raquel: I went to a small, private university. If I had to go back and relive my college experience, I would make the same choice. The opportunities I had because I went to a small school were endless. My classes were taught by actual professors, rather than TAs and my professors knew who I was by name. They got to know me as a person rather than just as a number on a paper. In addition, my professors wrote me great letters of recommendations for graduate schools and for internships. They took a personal interest in my education and I’m not sure that I would have had the same experience at a larger public university. Finally, I got so many financial aid opportunities at my school, it ended up being cheaper for me to attend Notre Dame de Namur than it would have been for me to attend a public university. All of this being said, that was simply my experience; many people go to public schools and are extremely successful and have wonderful experiences. Which type of college/university to go to needs to be determined by you, depending on how you learn best and what type of environment you want to learn in.

LeeAnn: I attended a large public university. With an undergraduate student body of over 30,000, UCLA can feel a little intimidating to navigate at first; however, I absolutely loved my time there! The size of the school means that tons of smaller communities pop up within it, so there’s really a spot for everyone. There are sports at all different levels of competition, from Division 1 to Intramural, and clubs that cover pretty much every niche interest you could possibly think of. I loved being surrounded by so many people that were so different from me, and I was also able to thrive academically. Though general education class sizes can get large, there are many smaller courses taught by world class faculty, and there is even an honors program that allows students to go beyond the usual material. With many professors who are actively engaged in ongoing research, there are also many opportunities to work in labs and on academic research projects, allowing undergrad students to gain firsthand experience in their field of choice.

Timeline–When should I learn more about this, and/or apply to public and private schools?

Chloe: It’s never too early to start learning more about financial aid and applying to college; however, try not to stress yourself out about it until at least your junior year. Enjoy high school! You can begin applying to most private schools in August using the CommonApp, while public school applications usually become available in October. These dates vary based on the school, so make sure to check out the college’s website to be sure you are using the correct timeline and application system.

What are some resources, tips, and tricks you think are helpful to know for this topic?

Chloe: When it comes to applying to colleges, I would suggest to start narrowing down schools by location. What state do you want to be in? It can be really overwhelming choosing schools, so think about things you like and then search for that; if you know what you want to study then look for a school that has a great program in that field. I suggest applying to both private and public schools. You can also search for colleges using different filters on the college board website.

Raquel: Look at the differences in tuition, size, and merit/need based financial help. Make a pros and cons list. Determine what qualities in a school are important to you based on data and information you gather from school websites, open house days, and talking to current students.

LeeAnn: In choosing what kind of school you want to attend, it is important to think about the kind of experience you want from college. While some determinations can be made based on the course of study you want to follow, you should also consider the atmosphere you want to be in for the next phase of your education! This includes things like sports and extracurriculars, as well as alumni engagement and research prospects. I would advise against putting any school on a pedestal as a “dream school” before you start your research, as you may find that different things are important to you. You may end up somewhere unexpected and wonderful!

Thank you Chloe, Raquel, and LeeAnn for your insight into public and private schools! Keep an eye on our College Resources page for a new article every two weeks! Got questions that still need answering? Comment below!