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Don’t Go To A Private University

All throughout high school, the importance of going to college was everywhere. If it wasn’t my parents, it was my teachers. If it wasn’t my teachers, it was the guidance counselor. Everyone stressed the importance of college. In fact, they were even more specific. They stressed the importance of getting into a good college, which in guidance counselor terms meant a college that was good in the field you were interested in. In many many cases, that college was a private university. While safe advice, it’s not necessarily true.

Going to a public university gives you a better shot at success than a private university. You don’t have to go to a private university to succeed. In fact, going to a private university gives you no advantage over a public university. To take it to an extreme, going to a private university puts you at a disadvantage in life because you are paying significantly more for your education, thus saddling you with debt obligations, with no benefit.

Student Loan Debt

The average cost of a single year (this includes tuition, room & board, etc.) at a 4 year private college is $24,044 and the average cost of a year at a 4 year public college is $13,589 according to the College Board [3]. Is private school truly worth the extra $10,455 a year?

It’s worth it if you can show that a graduate of a private university can earn significantly and consistently more than someone from a public university. I’ve never seen such a study or a report, likely because there’s no way to prove it. To claim a higher chance of success at a private school is like claiming that reading to a child when they’re young will improve their cognitive abilities. There may be a correlation but there’s no proof of causation. (This is a topic touched on in Freakonomics [4])

Greater Sense of Camaraderie

A school with a competitive sports program creates more school pride than a school without a competitive sports program. By leaps and bounds, public colleges have far superior sports programs than private colleges. Carnegie Mellon University, my alma mater and top notch private university, had no notable sports programs and I felt no strong attachment to the school. (I greatly respect my professors and peers and the education the school provided but in all other areas they were lacking) My friends from schools with better sports programs, public or private, often feel a much greater bond with their alma maters as a result of a strong sports program. Ever meet someone who went to Penn State? Or Ohio State? Or Texas? You know what I mean.

Easier To Network

Business is all about your network. If you’re an engineer working on a design, you probably don’t think that your network is all that important. Well, what happens when you need a part ordered? Or a drawing drafted? Or something to get through shipping? You could wait in the queue or you can tap your personal network to get your job done faster. The same is true in any industry at any level.

A significant reason why students want to attend Harvard is because of the networking opportunities. However, is the network worth the expense? Is that network that much better than the one you’ll build elsewhere? While you could make a case for Harvard, I doubt you could make the same case for every other private university in the country (or even 5% of them). You can build just as strong a network at a public university as you can at a private one.

The opportunities to build a network (and a larger one) are more plentiful at public universities because there are so many more students there! You may argue that you’re limited more by the physics of meeting people than the total number of students, I would agree. However, the pool of potential candidate “friends” is much larger so you’re more likely to meet networkable people.

More Alumni

Again, playing on the numbers, the alumni network is far greater at public schools than at private schools. If a public school graduates 5,000 students a year and a private school graduates only 1,000, then the public school will have five times the number of alumni (duh!). More alumni, and more passionate alumni, means the chances you run into an alum is much higher. I haven’t run into many (as in less than ten) Carnegie Mellon alumni, that I didn’t know beforehand, in my professional experience in the last six years.

Public schools are private schools are close enough such that it makes little sense to pay the private school premium. You walk into any company and there will be graduates from both private and public schools. The titles and salaries are not correlated with the issuer of the degree as much as it is correlated to the ability of the employee. The dumbest and most well-connected fool with a degree from Harvard isn’t going to cut it compared to a sharp mind from any public school.

Save the money and go public. 🙂