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Choosing between a public college and a private college

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You might be facing the choice between attending a large public university and a private university. Here are some relevant thoughts:

Some large public universities are much stronger than others

This is true even after restricting consideration to the best public university in each state and is true both of the students and of the faculty members. The case for attending a large state school is much stronger if it's among the best public universities.

Two indicators of the large differences between public universities across states are

Differences in SAT scores

The 75th percentile of SAT scores at University of Arkansas are

  • SAT Critical Reading: 620 (83rd percentile)
  • SAT Math: 640 (83rd percentile)
  • SAT Writing: 610 (83rd percentile)

By way of contrast, the 75th percentile of SAT scores at University of California at Berkeley are

  • SAT Critical Reading: 720 (96th percentile)
  • SAT Math: 770 (99th percentile)
  • SAT Writing: 740 (98th percentile)

These discrepancies corresponds to large differences in intellectual caliber.

Relative rankings of graduate programs

The US News and World Report ranking of a graduate program reflects the quality of the faculty in the department in significant measure. UC Berkeley's biology, chemistry and computer science programs are all tied for #1 or #2 in the country. By way of contrast, some large public universities are not among the top 50 ranked graduate programs in a given area.

Some other public universities that tend to have highly ranked graduate programs are University of California at Los Angeles, University of Washington, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and University of Michigan.

Large public universities have a lot of people to choose from

college size

  • Even if the average a group of 10,000 students is not very high, out of virtue of sheer size, the group is likely to some students who would be good peers for you. However, they may be difficult to find.
  • A large university will have faculty working in a diversity of research areas, so you're more likely to find faculty who you have interests in common with.