When students and families are browse rankings for a “top college,” many private colleges appear on such lists. The most notable schools in the U.S. are often private, non-profit colleges, such as Harvard and Yale. While private colleges have a reputation for quality of education, this is often offset by higher costs and greater competition to get in. There are some issues to consider, both for and against, when including private colleges on your search list.
1. Not all private colleges are non-profit.
In fact, some schools that are considered “private” (privately owned) are actually owned by publicly traded companies that have shareholders and are listed on the New York stock exchange. This has been particularly true in recent years, when for-profit colleges have essentially bought out small, struggling private colleges to gain their accreditation status. A private college, in contrast with public ones, is private in terms of it’s ownership, the funding it receives, and how it‘s categorized described by the U.S. Department of Education. In some cases, a public college might be a better choice than some private colleges, since that public school may actually have better educational quality or higher graduation rates.
2. Private college tuition doesn’t necessarily cost more than a public college.
Some of the families that I’ve worked with have told me that the “expected family contribution” determined by the FAFSA was surprisingly stable across both public and private colleges they applied to. While higher family income may make a student less eligible for state and federal grants, private colleges can sometimes make up for that with institutional grants. The actual financial aid received from them, however, will depend on the college and other factors. I’ve found that “traditional aged students,” as determined by the college, will get the bulk of financial aid money. Some colleges define traditional aged as three years or less out of high school, which is one of the perks of attending college immediately. This will vary by school, and might bring a surprise, making cost somewhat less of a factor. I recently read at Harvard’s website that a student from a family making less than $60,000 would be expected to make no financial contribution at all. It never hurts to check with the financial aid department of a private college that you’re interested in. You might be delighted at the answer.
3. Private college graduates often have higher mid-career salaries.
While state-school grads often enjoy a higher earnings-to-debt ratio within the first few years of graduation, private school grads often make up for then surpass their state school peers once they hit their full stride in their career. This can more than justify the expense of a private school, depending on the student’s major.
4. Private, non-profit colleges generally have higher graduation rates than public colleges.
As a sector, private colleges boast almost double the four-year graduation rate of public colleges. Statistically, many students will pay for one or two years less at a private college because they graduate more on time. This raises the question, however, about the students themselves. Do students graduate faster at private, non-profit colleges because they only accept the best students? This could be the case, but like public colleges, graduation rates vary by college. The faster graduation rate is an average, and is pulled higher by the over 90% graduation rate by outstanding schools like Harvard and Yale.
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Jeff Ludovici works with students and families across the U.S. about issues pertaining to college planning, preventing college problems, as well as getting students re-started if they have had problems in college. He is based in Pittsburgh, but has clients in New York, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, and other states. If you have questions, comments, or a student that needs help, feel free to write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national-level higher education consultant based in Pittsburgh. He has worked with students, families, colleges, and other professionals for more than 10 years. He specializes in understanding why students can end up doing poorly in college, as well as what can be done to address the issues.