When you hear the term "private college or university" what comes to mind? Prestigious, historical institutions full of wealthy students strolling around ivy-covered campuses? Some of that picture might be true (after all, they're not called "ivy league" for nothing), but there's a lot more to private colleges and universities in the US than you might think from the stereotypes you see on TV. Read on to find out what you can expect from the nation's variety of private colleges and universities.
One word that defines America's private institutions is diversity. Private colleges and universities include virtually every type of school: four- and two-year colleges; rural and urban; liberal arts colleges; major research universities; Christian, Catholic and Jewish institutions; historically black colleges and universities; women's colleges; art institutes; schools of law, medicine, engineering, business, and other professions. From small colleges with under 100 students to the larger universities with over 30,000, private colleges and universities can be found across the country and offer a huge variety of academic and professional programs. With both undergraduate and graduate programs, you can take anything from a 1-year professional certificate to a doctorate at a private college or university.
So what makes a school "private"? The sources of funding. Private colleges and universities are not funded by the government. Instead, endowments, annual gifts, alumni donations and tuition are important sources of money for these schools to operate. Therefore, the tuition at private colleges and universities is much more expensive than at state schools. However, private schools also tend to offer more generous financial aid packages; oftentimes, the actual out-of-pocket cost to earn a degree from a private college in the US turns out to be less than the cost of state schools. Over 80% of full-time undergraduates at private colleges receive some kind of financial aid. Private schools have to be smart with their money: they are accountable to independent trustees, accreditation bodies, and to students and their families. Most are non-profit, although some private colleges and universities are for-profit and run like businesses.
Almost 3 and a half million students attend private colleges and universities in the US. Who are they? There is the contingent of wealthy students, no doubt (28% of students come from families making $100,000 a year or more). But perhaps surprisingly, the proportion of minority and low- and middle-income students at private colleges and universities is almost the same as at other institutions: 30% of private college and university students are minorities, and 14% of students at these schools are from families with annual incomes of $25,000 or less. This is made possible because two-thirds of aid offered by private colleges and universities take financial need into account. Which means that these schools can attract and enroll talented students from a wide variety of academic and economic backgrounds by making the education affordable.
You can study just about anything you want at a private college or university. From career colleges to the Ivy League to Rabbinical institutes, every kind of vocational and academic program is available in business, science, arts, medicine, education, engineering, technology, religious and theological studies and much, much more. Check out our program-specific pages to learn more about what you can expect from the different fields of study at American universities and colleges.
The focused environment of private colleges and universities--paying more money often translates into serious study rather than goofing around-enables more students to complete their degree in 4 years than at public institutions. In fact, almost 80% of students at 4-year private colleges and universities receive their degree in 4 years or less, compared to only 50% at 4-year state institutions.
A lot of students want to go to a private college or university simply because of the school's reputable name. Fair enough. But reputation isn't everything. When considering a private college or university, keep in mind that they tend to attract a wide variety of students, making for a dynamic and diverse learning environment. These schools also tend to attract talented faculty, who often work on challenging and exciting research. Due to the research grant money pulled in by these professors, the facilities and equipment at private institutions are usually well kept, benefiting students and their research opportunities. Private colleges and universities are also more in control of their admission requirements. Generally, they are extremely competitive academically, but it's also not uncommon for them to look at more personal factors that go beyond your GPA. Some might see this process as subjective, but it can also be seen as ensuring that the student body is a good fit for the school, in hopes of building a cohesive and supportive campus environment.
So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in--in terms of both study and learning environment--then you have to find a school that offers it. Other factors such as scholarships, tuition costs, distance from home and possibly church affiliation may also be factors. Schools in the USA's database of private colleges and universities in the US can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you what they offer and who to call or contact for more information. Then call or even go visit--don't be shy! Check out the "choosing a private college or university" section here on Schools in the USA for more ideas on how to narrow down your choices. This is your education, so take the time to explore to help you get on the right path for your future!