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How to Identify a Good Private College

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

What are the advantages of a private college?

There are many advantages to attending a private college including reputation, smaller class sizes, lower student-to-teacher ratio, and attractive financial aid packages. Private colleges are different from private universities in that private universities generally have larger student bodies and broader ranges of majors and degree programs.

There are also several types of private colleges to choose from such as liberal arts colleges, faith-based institutions, and professional schools. Finding the best private college can be challenging, but conducting good research will help you identify the right school for you.

Accreditation is one of the most important criteria to consider when searching for a private or liberal arts college, and lists that rank schools on various criteria are good sources of information as well.

What is accreditation?
Accreditation confirms (or certifies) that a school meets the accrediting agency's standards and requirements for academic excellence. Private colleges are not required to receive accreditation.

There are different types of accrediting bodies. Those with the highest standing have received recognition from the U.S. Department of Education and associations that focus on higher education.

Although the U.S. Department of Education does not provide accreditation, its Web site contains lists of accrediting agencies.

Types of accrediting agencies
Accrediting bodies are independent entities that fall into 3 categories: regional, institutional, and specialized.

Regional accreditation is given to the entire institution and is based on the U.S. Department of Education's identification of 6 higher educational regions.

Institutional accreditation is given to particular types of schools such as liberal arts colleges; whereas, specialized accreditation focuses on specific fields of study and individual academic programs.

Why is accreditation important for a private college?

Accreditation is important for a number of reasons. It could determine which graduate school you can attend or impact your ability to transfer credits from one school to another.

It can also determine a private or liberal arts college's eligibility for federally funded financial aid programs.

In addition, it could affect your ability to get a job because employers might consider your school's accreditation status when evaluating your application.

Although easily overlooked, accreditation is important because it reflects the quality of a school and its programs and may affect your post-baccalaureate educational and career plans.

Use of ratings to identify private colleges

Several organizations rate private colleges (as well as public ones) on various criteria such as academics, costs, financial aid, graduation rates, and type of institution.

Depending on the methodology that organizations use to develop their ratings, you may or may not find them of value.

However, ratings generally include information about the schools, which could help you identify private colleges, liberal arts colleges, or private universities that you would like to further explore.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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