So, the sweet life of high school is over and now you have to pick a university. But suddenly you are invaded by a thousand terms you never heard before, and 2 of them that will keep popping up are “public” and “private”.
Well, let’s cover the first point: what is the difference between public and private, and which would be the better choice for you, personally?
What’s the difference between a private university and a public one?
1. Private vs. public universities – Costs
Long story short, the difference is money.
Yeah, I know… I should explain more, but that’s basically it: money.
When a new university is created, they need to decide if they want funds from the government to help with the running costs, or if they will just rely on donations from investors, businesses, or other individuals.
In Europe, you will rarely find universities that are private, because the government usually helps all of them with at least a part of the costs. In other parts of the world, like in the U.S., most top-ranked colleges are private, usually preferring to be independent of the government.
This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing, mind you: it’s just dependent on which system works best for each university, and that’s even the reason it differs and it’s not a general worldwide rule.
2. Private vs. public universities – Selectivity
Quality-wise, a university can be bad or good even if it’s public or private, and tuition fees can be either high or low in both cases.
Still, there is a certain level of selectivity here, with private universities targeting elites, and keeping the classes at a lower number of students. This doesn’t mean that public universities lack the same qualified staff or level for their criteria: it simply means that classes can be formed out of 100 students, not 30, and the vetting process shows it.
3. Private vs. public universities – Size
This difference will definitively affect you and your experience.
Private universities tend to be smaller, more compact, and with a smaller variety of degrees. Therefore, private universities also tend to be more specialized. Meanwhile, public universities were designed to host and teach a lot of people - because they started as institutions where the whole community was invited to study.
That’s why acceptance rates tend to be higher, but again: it can differ from case to case, so don’t jump to conclusions when you see either “public” or “private” in the description of a university.
Best public universities in Europe
In Europe, the vast majority of universities are public. And, as an insider, I can tell you that nobody cares at which you study. Yes, there could be a type of elitism, with public usually looking down on the private, but usually these types of “fights” are just for show.
After all, public and private universities tend to share teachers and courses, so it’s not like they are coming from different worlds altogether.
But, if you are not yet convinced, be sure to check out these top-ranked public universities in some of the most popular European countries for international students:
Best public universities in Germany
Germany is one of the most popular countries for international students who are searching for a STEM degree. Popular for their scientific and research-heavy degrees, Germany is the way to go, for good public research universities, like:
- Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich – ranked 32nd by Times Higher Education
- Technical University of Munich – ranked 44th by Times Higher Education
- University of Heidelberg – ranked 47th by Times Higher Education
Best public universities in the Netherlands
On the other side of the discipline spectre, in the Social Sciences and Humanities-prone degrees, the Netherlands hosts yearly thousand of international students, who pick some of their top-ranked public universities:
- Delft University of Technology – ranked 52nd by QS World University Rankings
- Wageningen University and Research – ranked 59th by Times Higher Education
- University of Amsterdam – ranked 57th by QS World University Rankings
Best public universities in France
France: land of the baguettes, the striped shirts, and the honhonhon laughs. But, if you want bohemian degrees in Fashion and Fine Arts, be sure to check out these fancy public universities:
- PSL Research University Paris – ranked 41st by Times Higher Education
- Sorbonne University – ranked 36th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- École Polytechnique – ranked 65th by QS World University Rankings
Best public universities in the UK
As the cradle of internationality and quality higher education, the UK has a rich history when it comes to top universities and amazing degrees. Some of them, which keep ranking in the top 10, at least, are even public, so don’t miss the opportunity to check out:
- University of Oxford – ranked 1st by Times Higher Education
- University of Cambridge – ranked 2nd by Times Higher Education
- Imperial College London – ranked 8th by QS World University Rankings
Best public universities in the Nordic European countries
Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway: the European Nordic countries are a fun little family, where you would love studying, we’re sure! So, if you don’t mind the cold that much, or if you enjoy saunas, be sure to check out these cool public universities:
- University of Helsinki – ranked 57th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- Aalto University – ranked 140th by QS World University Rankings
- Karolinska Institute – ranked 40th by Times Higher Education
- Uppsala University – ranked 63rd by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of Oslo – ranked 62nd by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of Copenhagen – ranked 29th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
Best public universities in Australia
Australia has the same view on public universities as Europe: they are just as good as private ones. Or, like a true Aussie would react: who cares?
As long as the university is highly ranked and can offer what you are looking for in a degree, the public or private university argument shouldn’t count that much in your decision.
Still, some of the public universities in Australia you should check out are:
- University of Melbourne – ranked 26th by Best Global Universities Rankings
- Australian National University – ranked 49th by Times Higher Education
- University of Sidney – ranked 31st by Best Global Universities Rankings
Best public universities in the U.S.
Ah, here the talks change a bit.
Although all Ivy League Schools (you know, the really fancy and important ones in the US) are private, there are a lot of public American universities that scoff in front of private funds and score really high in international ranking lists.
There are a lot of sensitive issues here (why universities would prefer to stay away from government funds, or from where the private funds are coming from), so, for the sake of keeping this article rant-free, let’s just see the top ranked-public American universities and leave it at that:
- University of California, Los Angeles – ranked 11th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of California, Berkeley – ranked 5th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of Virginia – ranked 107th by Times Higher Education
- University of Michigan, Ann Arbor – ranked 20th by Times Higher Education
- University of California, Santa Barbara – ranked 46th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – ranked 30th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- University of California, Irvine – ranked 83rd by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- Georgia Institute of Technology – ranked 34th by Times Higher Education
- University of Florida – ranked 86th by Shanghai Academic Ranking
- College of William and Mary - ranked 201st by Times Higher Education
Best public universities in Canada
Canada, besides being a great place to study, is also a great place to live in. From the sights, the awesome multicultural cities, and the general nice people, you cannot go wrong by picking one of these public universities:
- University of Toronto – ranked 21st by Times Higher Education
- University of British Columbia – ranked 37th by Times Higher Education
- McGill University – ranked 33rd by QS World University Rankings
- McMaster University – ranked 77th by Times Higher Education
Best public universities in Asia
The Asian-Pacific region has always made itself noticed with the quality of its education and the reduced number of private institutions here. As a general rule of thumb, the majority of universities in Asia are public, so it won’t come as a surprise that the first ranked in this region are also public, like:
- Tsinghua University – ranked 17th by QS World University Rankings
- National University of Singapore – ranked 11th by QS World University Rankings
- Peking University – ranked 30th by QS World University Rankings
So, now that you know where what the best public universities are and what awaits you all around the world, why not take a leap and go study at any of them?
As always, good luck, and never forget to have fun!