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Ask the Experts: Public University

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Question Are there significant differences between public and private colleges?  Is it easier to get into public universities if you are in state? - cait

AnswerYes, there are many differences between public and private colleges, more in some cases than in others. Most public colleges are actually large universities enrolling a majority of students from in-state. There are few private universities to match the size of the public flagship universities like Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, or Ohio. Public universities receive at least a portion of their revenue, and in some cases a very large portion, from their state government. By law, they are required to give preference to and enroll a certain percentage of state residents, since state tax dollars pay for a significant portion of students' educational costs.  

What should matter most to you in looking at public vs. private colleges is fit — size, location, educational programs, etc. Cost can matter, too. Public institutions are generally much cheaper to attend, particularly if you pay in-state tuition (though many private institutions award a great deal of financial aid, which can make the actual costs you pay not much more than you might pay at a given public university). Many public universities have excellent honors programs and colleges that can make them quite attractive educationally for strong students, in or out of state.


Question All these UC, state titles such as san diego state, university of san diego, University of California, San Diego, are all confusing in their status, can u please clarify the differences. - Priya

AnswerThere are several public (state-supported) college and university systems in California, and most other states. Perhaps the most well known is the University of California system, which consists of more demanding four-year universities offering undergraduate and graduate degrees. These institutions include the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at San Diego, for example. Then you have the California State University system, offering four-year degrees and some graduate degrees. California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and California State University at Fullerton are two examples here. The third main system is the community college system, including campuses across the state offering two-year degrees. Spending some time on the California State Department of Education web site will help you sort this all out.

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