When you hear the names of Harvard, Stanford, Yale, or the University of California at Berkeley, what comes to mind? There’s a good chance you’re familiar with these schools because their reputations are well-known, even halfway across the globe. With their first-rate research and graduate programs and high grad school rankings, it might seem like those are the schools you should attend, but your choices for a quality American education extend far beyond the Ivy League.

America hosts both private and public universities, a dynamic that helps fuel the diversity and vitality of the American university system. The variety that exists means that there are hundreds of American schools to choose from that offer excellent graduate education. Be sure not to overlook the many options during your graduate school search.

Public Universities

State universities are partially supported and indirectly controlled by their respective state governments. This means that they blend their aspirations for academic distinction with state mandates to serve and educate their citizens.

To accomplish that, most public universities offer broader admission criteria than private universities. Typically, this results in large enrollments, as well as multiple schools and departments within a single university. With so many programs on campus, they may put support into building an excellent reputation in a few areas, rather than many. For example, several programs may have a distinguished graduate school ranking, while others are not as highly thought of. In addition, some of their graduate and research programs may be small but top-notch.

Private Universities

In contrast, the average private research university is less than half the size of a public university. They tend to be more selective in their offerings, preferring to strive for high quality rather than enrolling large numbers of students. Often, 50% or more of their student population consists of graduate and professional students, and they graduate 1/3 of the Ph.D.’s in the U.S.

Quality is Not All About Graduate School Ranking

You can find a reputable program in your field of study at both public and private universities. Try gathering as much graduate school information as you can before making a decision. If money is an issue for you, it’s important to research which programs meet your needs. You may be able to gain impressions of the general reputation of the school or schools you’re considering, but your graduate studies will take place predominantly in a single department or program.

Certainly, the reputation and grad school ranking of the overall university is important, since it is primarily responsible for setting the intellectual atmosphere, providing resources such as libraries and computer facilities, and for assembling your peer group. However, you need to weigh the reputations, resources, and grad school rankings of individual graduate programs, as well. Sometimes the reputations of individual scholars or special institutes may be greater than the departments in which they are located.

If you have a thorough knowledge of your field, you may already know which schools are best suited for you. Your subject-matter expertise will also help you to judge which schools are preferable.

Ready for the next step? Check out Peterson’s GRE Practice Tests here.