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The Differences Between Public and Private Colleges

State universities, private universities, and community colleges in the U.S. have some distinct characteristics that you may want to explore before deciding where to apply.
By GPA Admin

The Differences Between Public and Private Colleges

In the United States, the main differences between state and private universities and community colleges lie in their tuition costs and student enrollment. 

Public Institutions

In order to provide affordable higher education to its residents, state governments have founded and continue to subsidize what is referred to as state universities.  These are also referred to as public universities to distinguish them from private institutions. 

Because they are subsidized by the state government, they have lower tuition fees than private universities.  State institutions will usually have the words “State University” in their names or will include a regional or state name (such as New York or California).  They tend to have a large student enrollment of 20,000 or more. 

In these institutions, in-state residents (people who live and pay taxes in that state) pay a lower tuition fee than out-of-state students.  International students are considered out-of-state and do not benefit from the lower tuition fees.  However, some institutions do have lower fees available to out-of-state and international students who are from states or countries or institutions in specific states or countries with whom they have made special arrangements and agreements. 

Check with Golden Path Academics for information on financial aid and scholarships for international students.  And lastly for consideration, international student applicants often also have to meet higher admission requirements than in-state applicants.

Private Institutions

Private universities on the other hand are funded by endowments, research grants, contributions by alumni, and student tuition fees.  Enrollment tends to be smaller than state universities and colleges, usually with less than 20,000 students enrolled and sometimes even 2,000 or less.  Private institutions also make no distinction between in-state and out-of-state students therefore tuition rates are the same.  Institutions that are same-sex or have religious affiliation are generally private colleges, but not all private colleges have such affiliations. The Ivy League universities and many other super selective universities are private, but on the other end there are some private colleges that admit all applicants.

Community Colleges

Community colleges, as the name suggests, are closely-linked to the communities in which they are founded.  They have close ties to the local secondary schools, businesses and community groups and many of its enrolled students live locally and close to campus with their families.  They are also sometimes known as junior colleges or two-year colleges. 

Community colleges often have tuition rates that are much lower than four-year universities and colleges, but this often means much larger class sizes and less individual attention.  They may be private- or state-owned and offer Associate degrees, mainly, the Associate of Arts (A.A) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees.  Community colleges often have agreements with local four-year institutions that allow their transfer program Associate degree graduates to transfer into the third year of the latter’s Bachelor degree programs.

For a comprehensive list of public and private institutions as well as community colleges, please contact us, or check out our school database.

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