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What is a private college?

A private college is an independent school that sets its own policies and goals, and is privately funded. Private colleges are generally smaller than public or private universities. The average enrollment at private colleges is only 1,900 students. Private universities, by contrast, can have over 30,000 students.

There are many different types of private colleges. Liberal arts colleges provide a broad-based education in the humanities, social sciences, and science. But many private colleges specialize. Fine arts colleges educate students to become professional artists and designers. Other private colleges are dedicated to technology, business, or medical fields such as pharmacy. 

A private college may also be affiliated with a particular religious denomination or gender. Although these private colleges are open to a diverse student body, course curriculum and student activities may cater to the needs of those particular populations.

Is a private college right for me?

At a private college, you can enjoy a warm, close-knit atmosphere. Class sizes will be small, professors will likely know your name, most of your fellow students will live in on-campus housing, and you may know most or all of them. At a small private college, you'll also have an easier time participating both in class and in student clubs, sports teams, and activities.

Yet, private colleges offer more limited options than either public or private universities. Liberal arts colleges will offer a range of majors in the arts and sciences, but fine arts colleges, technology institutes, or professional schools will offer a more limited number of majors. This means that you should carefully consider your career goals before picking a private college.

A liberal arts college is a good choice if you are not sure of your career path. The more specialized private colleges can be the perfect stepping stone to a successful career for students who already have their goals in mind when they finish high school.

Can I afford private college?

Tuition costs at private colleges are often more expensive than at public universities. Private colleges don't receive money from state legislatures. They operate independently and rely heavily on incoming tuition.

But before deciding a private college education is out of reach, students should know that private schools often offer general financial aid. In addition to financial aid, private colleges offer substantial help through scholarships and grants. On many campuses, the majority of students are paying less than the listed tuition price.