REUTERS/Jessica RinaldiAt a time when college costs more than ever and we're facing a $1 trillion student debt bubble, it's no surprise the whole "Is College Even Worth It?" debate is still going strong.
Take it from us –– you won't get far without a college degree and those who have managed to do so are the exceptions, not the rule.
Choosing between public or private institutions is the first step on that journey. Here, we take a look at the pros and cons of both:
Tuition and fees for a public four-year institution cost $20,823 for the 2011-12 school year –– about $8,000 less than private institutions.
Hands down, public universities are the better buy by definition alone. Because their funding is subsidized by the state, public schools can pass on those savings to students. Private institutions rely almost entirely on tuition and the generosity of donors, which is why students wind up paying more. However, since private college oft have pretty robust financial aid offerings, it's possible for some students to pay less than they would elsewhere.
STUDENT DEBT LOAD
Tuition is rising at both public and private universities alike, which means more students will be forced to take on student debt to pay their way.
For the 2010-11 school year, 57% of public four-year college students graduated with student loan debt, according to the College Board –– an average of $23,800. Private students were worse off, with about two-thirds of alumnus leaving school nearly $30,000 in debt.
Even if you've never set foot on a private campus, just the word alone –– private –– lends an allure of exclusivity and prestige. The top 20 schools on U.S. News & World Report's annual Best College rankings consistently go to private institutions for a reason. Class sizes are smaller, admission is selective, individual student attention is valued, and the curriculum is tough enough to attract top talent from around the world.
Still, it's a myth that all public universities offer subpar educations. There are public universities with enough prestige to rival private institutions, and they arguably boast an even higher roster of successful alumni based on the attractiveness of their ubiquity and low cost alone.
Winner: By reputation alone, private institutions are more prestigious.
Thanks to their affordability and proximity to home for most students, state schools are like flames attracting moths in the night. That makes for a pretty healthy social scene.
But if you're interested in mingling with students from outside your home state, pursuing a degree at private institutions may be appealing. They often attract a wider variety of students from around the country (and the world), which means that although the party scene may not be as hot as public schools, you'll get exposure to people who aren't all from the same geographic background. That in and of itself is pretty priceless.
Winner: You can't argue with the Princeton Review. Public schools are where the party's at.
JOB PROSPECTS :
There's no doubt that college graduates –– regardless of their alma mater –– fare better in the job world. For the first three months of 2013, the unemployment rate for consumers holding a bachelor's degree was between 3.7% and 4.1% –– high school graduates saw unemployment rates twice as high.
Public is the way to go for undergraduates.
Public or private, your chances of making it in the job world are higher the minute you graduate from college. But whether you're willing to shell out tens of thousands of more dollars to pay for the prestige of a private 4-year degree is the question you'll have to answer. For undergrads, there isn't much a private college can offer in the way of curriculum and social life that a public institution can't. True, public classes are larger and make it more difficult for one-on-one attention, but that's why professors hold office hours, after all.
Our advice: If your state schools offer the area of study and the social vibe you're looking for, do your future self a favor and cut costs now. Pursue a graduate degree at a private university, where you'll benefit more from academic rigor and more specialized areas of study.
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