Private College: Is the Larger Loan Worth the Investment

As of 2005, the average cost of attending private college for one year was $29,026, including tuition, room and board. This is in contrast to the $12,127 average price tag of a year of tuition, room and board at a public college. This begs the question: what makes private schools worth the extra expense?

Here's what you're getting in return for that hefty price tag.

Intellectual Challenge
Private colleges offer a lot of academically challenging, intellectually stimulating coursework that tends to be designed more for developing astudent's critical thinking skills than for funneling them straight into a specific career path.

High Graduation Rates
Students who attend private colleges graduate at much higher rates than their public school counterparts. Nationwide, students who attend private colleges are about 20% more likely to graduate within five years than public school students are. Students who attend private colleges are also about 10% less likely to drop out of college altogether. These higher graduation rates are due in great part to the excellent on-campus academic and social support found at many private colleges.

A Feeling of Community
Most students at private colleges live on or near campus, which allows them to participate fully in any on-campus activities that interest them, including athletics, clubs and social gatherings. The student bodies at many private colleges tend to be homogenous and like-minded, which can be an advantage for students because they feel a sense of belonging and find that they make friends easily with their fellow students.

This sense of community remains very important after graduation when it comes time to find a job and relocate to a new city. Alumni networks can be extremely helpful in those post-college years because they often have good leads on employment opportunities as well as alumni chapters in major cities across the country (or the world) that can provide social opportunities as well as professional ones.

Focus On Students and Teaching, Not Research
Public universities and the professors who are affiliated with them are often more focused on doing research and getting grants than on teaching. This emphasis often leads to large class sizes and a lack of personal attention for students.

Since teaching is usually the primary focus of private colleges, students are treated to lots of individual attention in small, engaging classes. Students have access to their professors and can consult them for help with course material, selecting a major or anything else that is on their minds. The courses at private colleges, even lower-level ones or lab sections, tend to be taught by PhDs, which isn't always the case with professors or instructors at public colleges.

What Type of Student Benefits From Private College?
Many factors need to be weighed into the decision of whether or not to shell out the big bucks in order to attend private college. However, certain types of students may benefit from the private college experience more than others:

  • Students who tend to get bored in school and need lots of personal attention and exciting, intellectually stimulating coursework.
  • Students who want to enter very competitive academic or career paths and think that they will benefit from the prestige and alumni network of a private college.
  • Students who identify strongly with the mission or religious affiliation of a particular private college.
  • Students who learn best in a same-sex (most often all-women, although there are still a few all-male colleges) environment.

Since a college degree is often an important stepping-stone to career and financial success, and since friends, memories and social connections made in college will often remain throughout your adult life, the expense of private college may be well worth it. If you really think that you could benefit from the type of experience offered by private colleges, then it may be time to open up your wallet, pay your fees and chalk them up to a wise investment in your future.

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