Choosing a public or private university in the USA be complicated, because there are so many to universities to choose from. All 50 US states have their own system of public higher education, and there are many private universities which operate independently from the government.

So which public or private university in the USA is the best? It really depends on what you are looking for. A better question to ask is: which university is the best for you?

To answer that question, it’s important for international students to learn the difference between public and private universities.

Which Offer Better Value, Public or Private Universities?

Private universities are quite expensive in the US. They often charge $50,000 a year for tuition, which doesn’t include living expenses.

Public universities are a bargain by comparison, charging around $15,000 a year. However, since the cost of education is partially paid from the state budget, these low prices are only offered to state residents. For example, the University of California charges an additional $28,000 tuition for students who come from outside of California.

So after you add in the cost of food, housing, travel – and the out-of-state tuition – the total cost of attending a public university in the United States is only a little bit less than it is for a private university. Generally speaking, if you might spend $70,000/year total to attend a private university, you might spend $60,000/year to attend a public university in the same city if you are not a resident of that state.

What are Public Universities in the USA?

As a general rule, universities named “University of (State Name)” are public universities. The the University of Virginia, and the University of North Carolina are examples of top-ranked universities in the US. These universities have long histories and are dedicated to academic research and to providing quality education to all of their state’s residents.

State university systems generally include multiple campuses. For example, the main campus of the University of Texas is in Austin, but the University of Texas system has fourteen campuses across the state. The University of California system has nine campuses with full academic research and professional schools, and an additional 24 four-year universities in its California State University system focused on more technical fields and local students.

What are Private Universities in the USA?

Private universities include many of the most famous American universities. There are the famed northeastern “Ivy League” schools like Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, so named because their historical buildings have a brick-and-ivy look to them. The classic large private universities like these (and Stanford, USC, Northwestern, to name a few others) offer comprehensive education.

Private universities feature academic departments in everything from Archaelogy to Zoology, and graduate professional education in medicine, law, business, engineering, etc. Other private schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), or its West Coast rival, the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) are more focused on technical fields.

Private colleges shine in offering even more specialized education, such as the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, or the Rhode Island School of Design. Although these schools may not be household names, within their industries they are often more prestigious than Ivy League educations. Students who are certain of their career path would be well advised to look for schools that specialize in their particular field.

Smaller Private Universities

Private colleges often specialize in providing smaller, more supportive environments for their students than the big state schools. This may be an important factor for international students to consider when they are planning their long trip away from home. Smaller colleges also have the advantage of being less difficult to get into than the big elite universities. Pepperdine University near Los Angeles is one example, and the school’s Christian values appeal to students who want to have a fun college experience without too much partying.

Liberal arts colleges are a type of private school that focuses on undergraduate education, and usually have no more than a few thousand students. Although they are mostly concentrated in the Northeast of the country, like Amherst in Massachusetts and Seton Hall in New Jersey, there are excellent liberal arts colleges throughout the United States, such as the Clairemont Colleges in California or Grinnell in Iowa.

Should International Students Choose Public or Private Universities?

The ClickStudies team believes that both public and private universities in the US offer great opportunities for international students. The right university for you will depend on other factors, most especially: what do you want from your US education?

Does the Academic Program Matter to You?

If you are dead-set on your career in engineering, business, etc., then the ranking of the university should matter most to you. Of the top ten US graduate programs in Engineering, five of them are public and five are private. Just go to the best school that will accept you.

Does Location Matter to You?

If you have a good reason to want to study in New York or San Francisco or Miami, then absolutely you should look for a university there and not worry if it is public or private.

But if you have family connections to a particular place, you should consider planning ahead to establish yourself as a state resident and pay much lower tuition. You could save as much as $40,000 per year by paying resident tuition at a state university instead of a private school.

For more information on your location choices in the USA, visit our information on Study in the USA and Study in California.

And lastly, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a public or private university in the USA just because it is in a cool place that you want to visit. You’ll get the most out of your time in the United States if you have fun, get out there, meet people and enjoy yourself!