4 Reasons Private College Might Be Worth the Cost

by Emily Guy Birken · 10 comments

As a personal finance blogger, I often advise my readers to reduce the cost of college by going to a state school or by starting their education at a community college. While I certainly believe these are great ways to get an education without breaking the bank, I also feel a little hypocritical for recommending it.

You see, I went to Kenyon College, which is a small, private, liberal arts college. My bachelor’s degree was pretty costly — but I wouldn’t trade my education (or its cost) for the world.

That’s because small private colleges really do have a lot of pluses. If you’re wondering why anyone would sign up for the additional costs of a private school, here are four things you’ll get there — that you might miss out on at a state school or community college.

The Benefits of Attending a Private College

1. Excellent professors (who actually teach)

Both state schools and private colleges tend to attract top-notch professors. You’ll often find, however, that professors at larger schools may be more invested in their research than in teaching. That’s partially because of the “publish-or-perish” mentality in academia, which can be exacerbated at a large school where a professor is trying to make her mark.

Add in the impossibility of professors really getting to know their students in 200-seat lecture halls, and the prevalence of teaching assistants — and it’s clear that a student at a big state school may never form close relationships with his professors. On the other hand, private colleges tend to expect professors to have a personal connection with their students. The school helps foster this by limiting class size and having fewer courses taught by teaching assistants.

2. Engaged students

The small class sizes that keep professors invested in their students have another great side effect: the majority of students at private colleges tend to be completely committed to their academics. The classroom dynamic is much different when you’re in a small class of actively participating students than when you’re getting lost in a crowded lecture hall.

3. Merit aid

Small private institutions know their price tag can be out of reach for many students. For that reason, schools with healthy endowments try to provide generous financial aid packages to students. This financial aid is often dependent on the student maintaining certain grades, which provides the same sort of incentive to do well that having to pay your way through school does — but it doesn’t split the student’s focus between a job and studying.

Furthermore, many of the top schools in the country are need-blind (meaning they don’t consider finances when deciding admission) and meet full-demonstrated need for any admitted student.

4. The alumni network

Alumni of small private colleges tend to be incredibly loyal to their school, which means they’re happy to offer advice, connections, and networking opportunities to recent graduates. With a tight network of alumni available, graduating students may find that professional doors are opened to them in ways they may not have experienced by going to a larger school.

There are many facets to the question of where to go to college. Reducing the equation to a simple question of what is cheapest might mean you miss out on the best option for your education and career.

Did you go to a private or public college? Are you happy with your decision?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Becky G says:

    My oldest son will begin his college career this August at a private college. He decided on the college due to class size, college size and on the loyality of his History teacher in High School to this college. He visited several state colleges that are in our area. The college offered him a merit scholarship that put the cost within range of the state schools. I would rather my child go to this school where we have had very good communications with the staff and even his first year seminar professor when school does not even begin until August. He is more than a number. Thanks for this article.

  • As expensive as my private college education was, I don’t regret it! The smaller classes and top-notch business program were totally worth it for me.

    • David Ning says:

      A top notch program makes all the difference Lisa. Education is something you will ALWAYS have with you, no matter what happens so it is often a good investment!

  • I think your argument is for small schools and not necessarily private small schools. I went to a small public university and all your points apply to me. I’m a huge supporter of small schools, public or private, because of the attention that you get from the professors. All the classes are small so the interaction between teachers and students are greater and more insightful.

    • David Ning says:

      Small class sizes definitely has its perks. The fact that you are forced to participate can do so much to help you absorb the material, not to mention that it can teach you to learn how to articulate your thoughts early in your life.

  • M Meagher says:

    My daughter went to Georgetown University, they were generous with financial aid (based on our family income) that she graduated owing $2000 not $20,000 in loans. She worked very hard, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, never missed a financial aid scholarship deadline. She had a job when she graduated.
    My son just graduated a public university in my state, he’ll owe nearly $28,000 in loans for four years and doesn’t have a job in his field yet.

    Public v Private education? In our house private schools have been a better choice for higher education.

    • David Ning says:

      Goes to show that the numbers aren’t as clear cut as what we can sometimes make it out to be. It all boils down to what YOU pay for the education. Don’t shut off any possibilities before running the numbers!

  • Emily Guy Birken says:

    @Michelle, I did the same thing. I got my M.Ed at OSU, and I’m really glad I had the experience of the large public university.

  • Michelle says:

    I went to a private university for my undergrad, and then I went to a public university for my MBA. Both had their positives and negatives, and I wouldn’t change a thing 🙂

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