By Calla Buttke
While sometimes public colleges and universities get a bad rap, there are numerous advantages to attending a large, public university. Although attending a large, public school may not be the best fit for all students, state institutions provide many benefits that a wide variety of college students can take advantage of.
For in-state students, the cost of attending a public university is usually less than attending a private institution. Unless a student receives a generous scholarship or financial aid package from a private university, public university tuition is generally much lower. When students receive scholarship and financial aid offers from both private and public schools, it is important to not only pay attention to the amount of scholarship and financial aid dollars, but also to consider the overall cost. For instance, if a private school offers a student a $15,000 scholarship per year for four years, but the overall tuition is $40,000 per year, then a public institution with a yearly tuition of $10,000 that doesn’t offer the student any scholarships would still be a more economical choice, as the student would still have to pay $25,000 per year in tuition at the private university.
Large, Diverse Student Populations
While on a percentage basis certain state universities may not be as ethnically diverse as their private counterparts, universities with tens of thousands of students nonetheless have students from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds, and cultures. Because of this, a broad range of interests, beliefs, and ideas are represented within the student body. Although the vast number of peers may be overwhelming at first, most students are able to find their niche and connect with groups with which they can share common interests, identify themselves, and have a sense of belonging. For this reason, even shy students can thrive at large, public institutions, as the large pool of college students enhances their ability to find a smaller group of students with whom they strongly identify.
More students means more clubs, organizations, and other extracurricular opportunities. Some large, public universities literally have thousands of registered student organizations. With that many student organizations, it is very easy for students to find clubs that align with their interests, which in turn allow students to create a smaller, close-knit community within the framework of the university at large.
More Academic Programs & Major Choices
Large universities have more academic programs and major choices simply because of their size. They often have majors and programs that are more specialized or specific. Larger universities also have multiple schools and colleges within them, which allows students to do programs that prepare them directly for a certain vocation, such as business or engineering. While certain smaller and private universities may focus on certain fields have highly specialized majors in those fields, large universities provide a variety of academic choices, which is especially beneficial for students who are undecided on their major when entering college or think that they may want to change majors in the future.
While certain private universities have the largest endowments among all universities, many large, public universities also have ample funding that they receive from sources including companies, research grants, and large alumni networks. They also tend to have extensive labs, performing arts centers, classrooms, buildings, and student facilities.
Many state flagship universities are world-renowned for both their research innovative academic programs, and high-performing graduates. UC-Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan are prime examples. Professors who are top scholars in their fields grace the lecture halls, classrooms, and research centers of large, public universities, providing students with a top-notch education and giving them the opportunity to do research with prominent figures in the field.
Job Opportunities & Networking Opportunities
Large, public universities have national name recognition, which in turn benefits students as they apply for jobs. Since employers know these universities, their companies and organizations are more likely to be present at career fairs on these campuses and to recruit students. The large alumni network of large, public universities can greatly assist students during the job hunt as well, as the larger number of fellow students and alumni means more potential connections that could lead to lucrative job opportunities.
Because there is little, if any, “hand holding” at large universities, students have to learn to take their own initiative to attend class, complete assignments, manage their schedule, etc. The personal accountability that students at large, public universities develop prepares them for adult life in the “real world”.
“Traditional” College Atmosphere
Many large, public universities have a robust collegiate athletic program that fosters the “traditional” college atmosphere, or one that emphasizes school spirit and pride. On game day, a special bond among all of the students is forged and the student body becomes unified. Even after graduation, many alumni still feel an enormous sense of pride for their university, which in turn connects the alumni.
While all of these advantages are not necessarily exclusive to just large, public universities, nor do they perfectly characterize every large, public university, by and large they are benefits that the majority of large, public universities have to offer. Large, public universities are by no means the best fit for every student, but they nonetheless have aspects that can benefit and appeal to a variety of students.