Public vs. Private College: Which One Is a Better Investment?

Which is better a public or private college?

The following is a guest post by Irina Vasilescu from the blog, Don’t Pay Full, about which is better a public or private college. If you’d like to guest post on Money Q&A, check out our guest posting guidelines.

On the surface, it seems like a simple question to answer. Which is better a public or private college? Which is a better investment? Surely, private colleges are cheaper, get you into less student debt, and you still get to graduate and earn the money back. But the real answer to this question is a whole lot more complex than that.

Believe it or not, a private college can even work out cheaper than a public one. It all depends on your circumstances. Let’s go through the questions you need answers to if you want to pick a college that will give you the best possible return on investment.

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What Financial Aid Packages Available?

If you had your heart set on private college but don’t think you have enough money, don’t give up without checking out the financial aid options available. That college might have bursaries or grants that could slash the overall cost of your education to not much more than the cost of a public college education. The only way to find out is to ask.

Cutting down on student debt is a biggie, and it will reduce your liabilities after graduating, but there’s more to return on investment than just reducing student debt.

How Much Individual Attention Does the Student Need?

The goal of going to college is to graduate. The longer it takes you to graduate, the more your education costs. While students who are quite happy coping on their own will do fine in a public college with its big classes of students, it’s not the ideal learning environment for everybody.

Some students need more individual attention and help than others, and since private colleges have smaller class sizes, professors can provide the extra input they need. If the student usually does well at school, he or she will probably be just fine in public college, but if academic work is a struggle, the extra personal attention a private college offers could tip the balance.

What Alumni Statistics Can a College Report?

On the other side of the coin, not all private colleges can report particularly impressive alumni statistics. How many of their old students are employed in the field they studied for? Do they earn more than graduates from public colleges? The answers will vary depending on the college in question.

If a private college can’t, on average, show that its alumni stand a better chance of lucrative employment, the return on investment might be no better or even less than it would be for its public counterparts.

Does the College Offer the Majors Needed for the Student’s Career Preference?

When it comes to the number of subjects that are available, public colleges will usually thrash private ones. On the other hand, private colleges will be more specialized in the subjects they do offer.

If you’re thinking about education in terms of return on investment, don’t lose sight of personal preference. Choose a college with majors the student will love, not necessarily one with majors that are likelier to result in big paychecks.

If students complete degrees and hate their jobs, they’re probably going to end up working in a field outside of what they qualified to do. Chances are, that will reduce the ROI on their education.

The Best Investment

The best investment in a college education will always have an individual answer. Yes, the college you choose will have an influence, and public colleges are usually cheaper than private ones, but the personal needs of the student influence how cost-effective any specific choice of college will be. To make your choice:

  • Consider bursary and grant opportunities
  • Take the need for individual attention into account
  • Look at the college’s track record for graduate employment
  • Choose a college offering majors the student wants to study

Return on investment is not so much about public vs. private college, but about what suits each student’s educational needs best.

Which is better a public or private college?

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