Top Public Universities
There are many reasons students choose public universities over liberal arts colleges and private national universities. Each state has at least one public university system. (Bigger states like Texas and California have more than one.) The most commonly cited reason for why public schools are chosen is cost. However, competitive applicants should be aware that the top private schools often offer financial aid packages that make the net cost competitive with in-state tuition rates. A quick examination of the median student debt at our top 25 public, private and liberal arts colleges show they are remarkably even.
Although most public universities lack a certain prestige that private schools can boast, they often provide easier admission for students. The top public universities have a less competitive admissions process than the top private schools. Admission is also often easier for state residents. Additionally, these campuses make it simpler for students to transfer with completed credits to and from other colleges.
A major advantage to attending a public university is that there are often more opportunities for academic advancement. Most top public universities offer more degree programs than their private counterparts. Because the campuses are generally larger, there are often more athletic programs and student-run organizations and events. Large state schools, like Ohio State University, offer as many as 1,000 various clubs and activities on campus. (Compared to maybe 50 or 60 groups at a smaller, private school.)
There are a few significant drawbacks college applicants should consider when looking into the top public universities. These schools are more likely to employ large class sizes and more lecture-based courses instead of small group studies or labs. There is a more significant chance that many classes will not be taught by professors, but rather by graduate students or teaching assistants. Individuals who like a lot of personalized attention from faculty might find it’s difficult to break past the anonymity that comes with attending a larger school.
Graduation rates are also likely to be lower at the top public universities, particularly the four-year rate. Part of this is often due to classes being offered less frequently than at private colleges as well as the insistence of many private colleges that the students graduate in four years even if it means the school saying “no” to a change of major request. The converse of this, of course, is to give the student the autonomy to maintain more control over their educational plans even if it takes them sometimes well beyond the four-year mark.
Nonetheless, many students prefer learning in the public university environment. And, overall, students should choose their university based on a large number of personal preferences. The types of degree programs, the ‘feel’ of the campus and students, and the opportunities for extracurricular activities are most often responsible for driving thoughtful college applicants to ultimately selecting public universities.