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Choosing the Right Kind of College

It’s never too early to start thinking about your child’s future college career! While this started out as a pros and cons list, it now highlights the different features that are often— but not always— true of public and private universities as well as community colleges. After all, what is a pro for one student could be a con for another.

Public Universities

  • Campus Life: Public universities offer a wide range of student organizations to join. These organizations hold meetings and events regularly. There are also opportunities to get involved in student government, fraternities, and sororities. At a public university it’s easy to meet other people with the same interests. Opportunities for student involvement often lead to invested students.
  • Amenities: Due to their significant funding, public universities contain state-of-the-art libraries, gyms, and laboratories. Free tutoring and career services are usually available.
  • Large Student Body and Diversity: A large student body means exposure to a wide range of backgrounds in terms of religion, ethnicity, political inclination, and academic interest. Due to the low-cost, exchange students from other countries can often be seen strolling through a public university campus.
  • Low In-State Tuition and Financial Aid: While a public university will cost more than a community college, it will cost significantly less than a private university. This is especially true if your child decides to attend school in the state you reside in. Work-study programs and scholarships are also readily available.
  • Larger Classes: If your child is planning on a business or STEM major, he/she will most likely be in large lecture classes. This may benefit a student who catches on to new subjects easily, doesn’t like speaking up in class, or doesn’t mind forming study groups and visiting professors during office hours. It may be a disadvantage for a student who needs one-on-one attention while being exposed to new material. Such a student who is set on a public university should take advantage of the free tutoring often offered. A student who doesn’t go to office hours or gets significantly high grades may have more trouble finding a recommendation letter if he/she wishes to further his/her education.
  • Professional Experiences Opportunities and Networking: Public universities offer a large variety of on-campus research and internship opportunities. Due to visiting speakers, the large student body, professional student organizations, on-campus research, career fairs, internship/research/job opportunities, and well-established professors, there are many opportunities to network for a future career.
  • Reputation: Some public universities have wonderful reputations, but others are not thought of as highly as private universities. If the reputation of the university is important to your child’s career, research the public universities he/she is interested in. Be aware that, with many careers, reputation of the university doesn’t matter as much as what your child achieved during his/her time there.
  • Graduate Student Teachers: Due to the large amount of classes, many of the teachers for introductory courses are actually graduate students and not professors. This may be a deterrent for someone who wants a more experienced teacher. On the other hand, it may be helpful to a student studying a field that is constantly changing, where youth is an asset. If your child is interested in graduate school, it may also be helpful to have access to someone who was admitted into a program.

Private Universities

  • Campus Life: Like public universities, private universities offer a vibrant campus life. However, it can vary widely depending on the size of the school, so make sure to look into the schools your child is considering.
  • Amenities: Private universities also usually offer state-of-the art amenities. With a smaller student body, there is more access to these amenities than at a public university.
  • Community: Due to the small student body, there is a strong sense of community and support in private schools that you’re not as likely to find in a public university. A sense of community offers strong motivation for success.
  • Cost and Financial Aid: While an obvious disadvantage to private schools is the cost, don’t be deterred until you’ve looked into their financial aid opportunities. These schools often offer merit scholarships that cover tuition and housing.
  • Smaller Classes: Smaller classes mean more one-on-one time with professors. Along with being a good network opportunity, one-on-one time with professors means students have individualized attention that will make it easier for them to get through difficult subjects. It will also be easier to make friends in classes as well as form potential study groups.
  • Professional Experiences and Networking: Private universities with a good reputation often have amazing opportunities to research, intern, and network. With more individualized attention and a smaller student body, your child has a higher chance of getting these positions than in a public university.
  • Prestige and Selectivity: These schools are often prestigious. While this makes them difficult to get into, it could cause your child to stand out more in job and graduate school applications.

Community College

  • Low-Cost: Community colleges are the least expensive option on this list. If your child’s future career only requires a two-year degree or if the prospective community college offers four-year degrees, this is the best financial option. It is also a good way to save on living expenses, especially if your child decides to stay with you.
  • Ability to Explore Major: The low-cost of classes offers wiggle room to a student who is still unsure what he/she wants.
  • Transitional: Community colleges are often used as transitional schools. Your child could earn his/her two-year degree and then transfer to a private/public to finish his/her four years. It would be less expensive than four years at a public or private university, but your child could still obtain his/her four-year degree from a more reputable school. However since community colleges are often attended by adults coming back to school, students only wanting a two-year degree, and transitional students, there is often not the same sense of community you would find in a public or private university. That being said, if your child works hard and is involved in class, he/she will stand out more with his/her professors.
  • Flexible Scheduling: Community colleges offer flexible scheduling which offers more opportunities for employment.

While students’ possibilities are often limited by finances, know that many schools offer merit scholarship opportunities. That’s why it’s so important to offer support in our children’s academic life and the earlier, the better! To help your child succeed in classes early on, check out the Kumon Learning Center or the Early Learning Coalition.

Tampa Bay Parenting, Intern, Maria Dones
Maria Dones is an intern at Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine. When she’s not reading old fairy tales or obsessing over Korean dramas, you can find her trying to befriend her boyfriend’s roommate’s cat.

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