What Is The Difference Between A Public University and a Private University?

Public versus Private UniversityStudents interested in enrolling in college often want to know the difference between a public and private university. You might hear the words college and university thrown around by various schools and still not understand what constitutes a private school or a public school. It often comes down to where the school gets money to operate, but you’ll also find a number of other differences between the two types of schools.


The biggest difference between a public and private university is where the school receives its funding, according to Inside Higher Ed. Public schools receive funding from the government, which means that the schools must follow any regulations put in place by the government. The government will often rely on a board of directors to ensure that the school follows those rules and that it maintains an open and diverse campus. A private university relies on donations from former students and on tuition dollars. These schools are often more restrictive and admit fewer students than public schools do. Some public colleges have an open admissions policy that lets any applicant take classes, while private colleges have a long list of requirements that applicants must meet.

Tuition and Other Costs

When looking at public and private universities, you’ll also find that private schools charge much higher tuition costs. As public schools receive money from the government, those schools can keep costs low. Some schools charge less than $10,000 a year for admissions, while a private college can easily cost $30,000 or more per year. Private schools also charge for more administrative fees, laboratory fees and other fees, and you’ll typically find that the cost of room and board is higher when you attend a private college as well.

Class Size

Some students find that the main difference between a public and private university is the class size. Class size refers to the number of people you have in your class. Most private universities are more selective in their admissions policies, which results in smaller classes. You might take a few courses with 10 or fewer students, and even your larger classes will often have less than 50 students. Public colleges have much larger classes, and you might take seminar classes with 200 to 500 other students in the lecture hall.

Related Resource: Graduate School Cohort

Course Options

As private colleges are smaller, those campuses typically have fewer course options than you would find at a public college. Public colleges can have 30,000 to 40,000 students on campus and thousands of different professors. Those professors teach several classes every semester. Private colleges usually have a smaller number of professors working on campus and in each department, which means that you have fewer options. Many private schools only have a limited number of majors and minors available. For example, some private universities only offer social work and other liberal arts programs as a minor, while you can major in that topic at a public university.

There are a number of differences between private and public colleges. Public colleges have more courses available, larger classes and more professors, while private colleges have fewer courses but smaller classes. Looking at the difference between a public and private university, including the funding of the school, can help you decide which one is the right option for you.