I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.
The Old Alma Mater
I ended up at a Private College to finish my Bachelor’s degree as a non-traditional student (married and with one child). I didn’t get to enjoy the social side of the college since I was commuting from a half hour away and also working full time. Every class was demanding, drowning me in papers, exams, and special projects. But I loved every minute of it.
Private schools aren’t for everyone – they sure weren’t in my spectrum until I started qualifying for grants and loans – but it’s an experience you’ll always be fond of.
Who will love it:
- People who want a challenge. Private colleges are more demanding in every subject, so be prepared for the work load. But if you believe that what you get out of education is proportional to what you put in, you’ll find that true here.
- Kids looking for a social scene. Though most Private Colleges can’t compare to Universities in the spectrum of entertainment offered, they still offer plenty of opportunities for socializing.
- Big Fish. Unlike a University, Private Colleges do tend to have kids that everybody knows. You don’t have to be a sports star to be BMOC here; just bring a big personality.
- Follow-up-question lovers. So you loved reading The Iliad and want to know everything about that era, from fashion choices and food to the types of trees they used to make their boats? Welcome to the Private College where professors have spent their lives waiting for someone to swing in and ask precisely that question.
- The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. What, really? Yep. I can’t promise this will be true for everyone, but of all the kids I’ve ever met doing this at a Private College, 90% of them not only stayed in school, they flourished. Unlike other types of schools, your advisors aren’t going to let you skate by and skip classes. They’ll call you in on it and do everything in their power to motivate you.
It’s a toss-up:
- People living off-campus. You will always feel like an outsider, that’s certain. And I was constantly frustrated when professors would schedule mandatory assignments in the evening with no regard to the minority of us who had jobs. On the other hand, Private Colleges tend to be far more inclusive toward non-traditionals than Universities.
- Anyone with a really uncommon major. This gets tricky. If you’re looking for something incredibly specific, do your research and find a school that has decided to specialize in it. Otherwise, you’re likely to get classes from several other majors lumped in as requirements just to round it out. Also, whereas a University might offer several specific majors in a field, a Private College is likely to offer only the generic major.
Who will hate it:
- Kids who grew up poor. Most of the people going to the expensive schools are getting financed by their parents. They don’t have to work, let alone worry about how expensive the textbooks are. If you are paying your own way, it’s easy to build up a resentment to everyone who isn’t.
Check the list of big-name alums for the school you’re considering. It shouldn’t be hard – most colleges look for any opportunity to name-drop. Why does it matter to you? Because the big dogs in the administration building are still courting them, to get them to drop by the campus now and then. If you care about networking, this is the avenue for you. For the rest of us, it’s just cool to be able to say, “Yeah, George Bush gave my commencement speech.”