Pros and Cons of Public Flagship vs Private Colleges

Remember that financial aid includes loans- not ideal. It does matter which state you live in- the CA situation is different than others with equally good public U’s. Honors programs also make a huge difference- they vary from school to school, and among state flagships.

So- this thread is more specific- pros and cons for California kids.

Another anecdotal story.

My son, a senior in college, was accepted to in-state (CA) and out-of-state publics and privates. His finalists were essentially a UC and a private in CA. He chose the private for a few reasons which in retrospect, ended up being a saving grace for him.

  • He received merit aid at the private he attends. Not enough to bring it down to exactly a price equal to the UC school, but close enough that finances were a distant background decision point.
  • He started in mechanical engineering. At the UC school, it is an impacted major along with many/majority of majors. He was given "the grid" that defined his class path that would get him through in four year with literally one or two slots his senior year to pick classes of his choosing. If he chose to switch majors along the way, he would have a much more limited set of options then when he was applying as an incoming freshman and he would certainly have had to take quite a few community college classes to keep up and graduate in four years. Graduating in four year was very important to him and that is why he eliminated the University of Wisconsin were he was flat out told by the engineering department that most engineers take 5 years to graduate due to the difficulty of getting the required classes. He ended up transferring to Econ after two years at his current school and will graduate in four years with two summer classes there and no community college classes. He was able to pull this off because he was able to get into the extra classes he needed to catch up with little difficulty during the fall/spring sessions.
  • We picked up a friend of his older sister at UCLA when he was a senior in high school. We asked the friend about the long line streaming out of a door on a building, along the length of the building, and around the corner to who knows how far. She said "Oh, that's just the line for dinner at the cafeteria". It impacted my son, he realized that with large numbers come logistics and supplies issues that have to be navigated.
  • He attended a private high school. He felt more at home at a mid-sized private then at a large public. His younger brother is graduating from the same HS and is looking forward to attending an OOS public flagship because he doesn't want to feel like he is in another smallish environment (like myself). Different strokes for different folks.
  • An additional benefit of his choice is that he has built great relationships with many of his tenured professors. He has built great relationship with a professor that he never took a class from; this prof helped him land a highly sought after summer internship after his JR year which was an important factor in getting the job he has accepted upon graduation this June. His schools alumni network is also fantastic, regional for sure, yet fantastic. They take care of their own.

This is a view into a single decision on why a private school was a better choice then a flagship public. Again, my youngest has chosen the OOS flagship public route and we are looking forward to the next four years of his experiences.

@foobar1 Overall, when it comes to engineering programs, public schools tend to have better setups for corporate internships. Half the internship pages of “elite” colleges are blind links, and their list of internships makes it clear that they think that their graduates should all be going to grad school. I would guess that it’s not that different in other STEM fields.

^^I would state the exact opposite about internships in private v. public. Only a student at a particularly school (elite or other) is able to access the internship pages of a college (particularly a private college) so not sure how anyone would know “half of them” are blind links. Connections at privates are second to none with the strong alumni network backing of a private univ, internships are more numerous statistically, making the best ones more easily attainable. Most public students don’t have/feel a loyalty to hire other grads from their school compared to the privates - I see this a lot, private alum networks are amazingly strong.

A few of the biggest pros to private we found are the connections/relationships made with other students and faculty - their mentoring and the benefits have been huge for my students during and after they graduate. Avoiding the masses/crowds in college - it’s not a number of students thing, it’s how well the school is managed and resources are funded - privates do that well. The ability to change majors and double major easily was critical to our decisions. Easy class registration with access to the cool classes. College is for exploring, not having to be locked into a set path. Access to unique opportunities throughout the four years - studies/research/participation and not fighting/struggling to get in them - we have found this to be one of the best parts of the private school experience.

As a UCR alumnus from way back in the day when it was a very small campus of around 5,000 students (now almost 25,000 students), it prided itself on its “Personal Touch”…small classes, easy access to professors, double dorm rooms only, superior financial aid for those in need, diversity, and the easy ability to graduate in only 4 years…received a great education/college experience and would highly recommend UCR or ANY UC (not just Berkeley/UCLA)…the University of California System is the best PUBLIC system in the world where you will receive a top notch education at any of them!

I would beg to differ that alumni of publics are not loyal. I would put any private up against my child’s public for internship and job possibilities.

@scubadive – I would say the same of the public I went to. Then, and now.

@blueskies2day I said “blind link”, not “requires password access”. That means that the page to which the link was connected has either crashed or some other error has occurred, and the webmaster has not corrected it. I have found this at a number of private non-tech universities. I am decently tech savvy, and I can tell when certain webpages are restricted to people with password access.

When I say that Princeton CS seems to want their graduates to go to graduate school, that is because , on their “Jobs & Life After Princeton”, at the very top, the very first thing that a student sees is “Graduate School”. Then “Summer Programming Experience”, then “Computer Science TAs”, then “Other Jobs in the Computer Science Department”, then “Jobs in Other Departments” Only then, as the last resort after all those ideas, do you find “Finding an Internship”.

Most internships are not with expensive law firms, politicians, or banking companies. Most are with corporations, especially large tech companies. The people who are in charge there generally are not graduates of small private colleges, but of large public engineering powerhouses. They do not belong to the Old Money Club who still all go to private colleges only, and run much of the banking and other financial,institutions.

@MWolf wrote:

Absolutely agreed. DS1 attending a public tech university and received internship to a top company which regularly recruits there and has many alumni at the company. I do realize that private universities provide a lot of resources not available at public universities, but if my kid can’t get in, it has no value for us.

DS2 will most likely have stats/ GPA and course rigor to apply to the top private universities. But we realize he is in the worst demographic (unhooked,upper middle class, Asian descent, male, from NJ), and is “average excellent” with no big time accomplishments in his EC’s. We will be cheerleading many of the state flagship honors colleges instead, the most likely scenario for possible acceptances.

Access to internships at tech companies is, for the most part, fairly straight forward (apply, code test, etc) so students from any school can engage (even without on-campus recruiting events). Campus recruiting events do, however, make it easier as some hold first round reviews and even code tests on-campus (advantage schools with many of these). These events are typically listed on department websites.

There are, however, many ways that networks can assist. For instance, at many tech companies you can skip the code test and go directly to f2f interviews if an existing employee will vouch for you. So, at schools whose graduate programs funnel into specific companies the coattails of the grad students assist the undergrads (same when profs also work/consult at certain companies). Another way networks help is in startups where current students (grad and undergrad) as well as profs either hire interns or help them engage with startups (the startup culture is heavily word of mouth).

“Connections at privates are second to none with the strong alumni network backing of a private univ, internships are more numerous statistically, making the best ones more easily attainable. Most public students don’t have/feel a loyalty to hire other grads from their school compared to the privates - I see this a lot, private alum networks are amazingly strong.”
@blueskies2day I would beg to differ. I know plenty of die hard UCLA and UC Berkeley alums who are very active in the alumni network. I have a friend who started a UC Berkeley alumni meetup in the DC area. And she posts job opening at her company on the Berkeley alumni page…so

Also, not just UC’s but plenty of other public schools around the country have die hard loyal alumni…

Yes, public schools are big and crowded and not for everyone, but that doesn’t necessarily make them inferior…
Also, private universities are not the be all and the end all…

Absolutely. Since there are many more graduates of engineering majors from engineering powerhouses like UIUC, OSU, Michigan, Purdue, GTech, UCB, etc, a graduate from one of those programs is much more likely to have connections in a tech company than a graduate from, say, Harvard’s engineering. UIUC has 9,145 engineering undergraduates, versus 700 at Harvard’s engineering. Of those, UIUC has about 1050 CS majors, versus Harvard’s 350. Harvard has about 8,000 Alumni of their Engineering program, versus UIUC’s 80,000. UIUC is not even the largest of the engineering powerhouses.

The ONLY private university that has an engineering alumni network that is similar to that of the college of engineering of any of the Big 10, UW, UCB, etc, is MIT.

In general, the size of public universities, especially flagships, means that they have many more alumni across many more locations. While for years the private colleges, and especially the Ivies, dominated the top echelons of the Business and legal worlds, that is no longer the case. Moreover, the days in which HR would automatically hire the “Harvard Man” are also mostly past. It is not as easy to do things like that these days, what with the dangers of discrimination lawsuits, etc.

It is true that the privilege of wealth and social class means that a graduate of an Ivy is better placed to get the better jobs. However, only a minority of the richest kids are actually going to an Ivy, or even an “elite” private colleges. Only 10% of the kids of the top 1% by income are going to an Ivy+ and another 30% are going to an “elite” college, with many of the “elite” being public schools. So the number of kids with the same privilege of wealth and class who are not graduating from an Ivy is now larger than the number who are, and therefore the numbers of Ivy graduates in the upper echelons of the business world is continuously shrinking. This is true not only of the Ivies, but of all expensive fancy private colleges.

I think it just boils down to the kid, the family, and what their goals are. My ex and I met at a top 20 LAC, so that’s our frame of reference. When thinking about my somewhat shy/socially anxious kid who doesn’t have a clue what he wants to do with his life bopping around in a sea of people, I worry he will get lost and be just as clueless at the end of 4 years as he is now. Further, he’s very much a class contributor, so imagining him in a 200 person lecture class - I think he would be miserable. We’re looking at a school where there’s’ a significant amount of “hand holding” for lack of a better term - guaranteed internships, lots of advising, career counseling, etc. This appeals to me, and I think it appeals to him also.

My daughter has a clearer idea of her future. She wants to be a veterinarian. She already seems to write concisely and clearly, and I’m anticipating her educational experience being more about actually learning facts that she will need to know and achieving grades as opposed to being an exploratory experience. She probably will enjoy big lectures where she can just disappear. And she might enjoy lecture classes where she can just disappear and learn. Undergrad for her just serves a different purpose.

Cost is certainly a consideration too, but not all state schools are affordable or offer the amount of need-based aid that private schools do. So, there may be families that will choose a public school for affordability, and others that will be forced to look in the private sphere for affordability. Some private schools also offer such substantial merit aid that they are cost competitive with public schools.

Another reason a California kid may not want to go to a UC is the quarter system. If the student wants a semester system, a private school in California may offer that

I personally didn’t like quarters, but I’m sure I would have put up with that system to go to a UC. Another person (who had more money than me) may have opted for another school.

UCB and UCM are on the semester system. While UCB is relatively difficult to get into, UCM is not as difficult to get into.

Most CSUs and California community colleges are on the semester system.

My husband attended a private university, I attended a public. While experiences can vary tremendously for different people and while it’s true that I’m far more of an introvert than he is, I was struck by how much more he seemed to get out of his college years than did I. He received far more personal attention and seemed to enjoy himself a lot more than I did. I am sure this is also due to the particular universities and what they offer.

In any event, when it came time for my youngest to look at schools, I was very wary of the UCs. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about kids feeling like numbers, about the difficulties of getting into classes and graduating in four years, about having to commit to a major too early without any flexibility to change later on, and about a less than collegial atmosphere. I was also concerned about the political vibe at UCB. I am sure it works out very well for kids who are more outspoken, definite in their major choice and self-assured but mine is a quiet person who tries her best to stay out of the spotlight and who, as a result, is often overlooked. A large university, public or private, would not be an ideal choice for this sort of temperament.

She got into the UCs to which she’d applied but ended up at a private university where she’s continued to be her quiet self but where she’s had close relationships with profs (sometimes in spite of her efforts to avoid them, lol) . She’s also been able to pursue a joint concentration that would have been difficult if not impossible to pursue at any of the UCs. For her, this was the best choice. If money had been a bigger issue, she would have attended a special small program that would have been free to attend.

I guess the point is that the choice is different for every kid and every family and the factors that affect the choice vary person by person.

  1. It cost us less to send our two kids to private schools than it did to our flagship public. The financial aid was much better, especially for our first child.
  2. There were much better facilities and services at the private schools that our kids went to/are going to;
  3. The “lecture hall” at the state flagship sat over 600 students. The lecture hall at the private school held fewer than 200. Those halls were for a few first year classes. Most other class sizes were smaller as well.
  4. Looking more deeply into costs after the first year, housing was less expensive at the private schools; the one state school my daughter looked at would have required renting an apartment for a year at high prices ($1,000 a month per person for a shared apartment + utilities = $12,000, versus $6,000 at the private school for the school year.)
  5. Health services, costs you don’t think about such as printing; signing out a room at the library so our daughter could Skype for interviews (free at her school; $$$ at the state school); fees were much higher at the state schools - diving deeper into the costs, there were additional fees for almost everything at the state schools.

I’ve told this story before on CC. A dear friend who was a great public school advocate; she and her husband went to state universities. They did well , were happy, and their first two kids did just fine in public schools. Both went to their large, well regarded flag ship state university.

But Kid3 was not like them it was rather clear that the chances of him getting through 4 years of Big State U with a degree were slim. A smaller Private was a better fit. A conclusion even the pro Public school parents made. For some kids, a private school simply is a better choice. Some people prefer them.

Of course, there are wide variances in private schools and public ones. There are huge private schools and smaller public ones. There are advantages that some schools have over others in academic offerings, access to classes, name recognition, culture, facilities , etc etc.

I have a cousin whose daughter finally came to the decision to go to he state flagship over a private school because the cost came down to the major difference. Just could not justify 3X the cost to go private. Had the money been no issue at all, it’s possible that the decision would have gone the other way. I agree the difference is not much and that with cost to them was not worth the advantages of the pricier school. In fact I see other advantages of the state school choice as well.

As a general rule, i prefer LACS which tend to be private because I like the more personal attention that students can get there. However , two of my kids who did go to relatively large state schools, the small departments of their majors really gave them a lot of nurturing and assistance.