choosing public vs private college

Choosing a Pathway to College: Public vs. Private vs. Non-Profit Schools — What Does it all Mean?

Whether you’re looking into colleges for the first time or going back to school later in life, there are many things to consider when choosing a college.

“What majors do they offer?”

“Will the programs get me into a great career or help me advance in my job?”

“Can I keep working while going to school?

What is important to you when choosing a college is very personal. To prepare you for your college search, we’re exploring some major differences you may come across while analyzing your choice of colleges and universities.

College vs. University: What’s the Difference?

The difference between a college and a university is the first distinction you should know as you dive into your college search. Understanding what makes a college a college and a university a university is helpful when deciding what is most important to you regarding your education.

What is the difference between a college and a university?


Colleges can be either private or public schools. Public colleges receive funding from tuition and local and state governments. Public colleges sometimes offer lower tuition and fees because of the public funding they receive. Public schools also offer special tuition rates for in-state residents.

Private colleges get their funding through tuition and fees, and donations called endowments from alumni, local organizations, and other entities. Donors sometimes specify that their contributions should go toward student scholarships, which can increase your financial aid award for college.

Colleges tend to be smaller than universities, but this isn’t always the case.


A university is usually larger than a college. Universities offer four-year bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degree programs. Some universities offer associate degrees and certificate programs, too. Like colleges, universities can also be public or private, depending on how they are funded.

Universities contain smaller colleges and schools. These schools house specific programs and majors and are led by an administrator called a “dean.” Universities like Goodwin University offer degree programs to prepare you for a career in your chosen field.

Public colleges and universities may offer more programs, but that often comes with larger class sizes and higher student-to-faculty ratios. The smaller class sizes of private colleges and universities can give you a more personalized approach to your education and more one-on-one time with expert faculty.

Learn more about college vs. university here.

Public vs. Private Schools

We touched on this a little earlier, but to further clarify, private or public refers to how an institution receives funding. Both colleges or universities can be publicly funded through state and local governments or privately funded through tuition, fees, donations, and grants. Both types of schools can offer students a range of programs and majors and help students access financial aid to pay for college.

Non-Profit College and Universities

For-profit colleges and universities are less common than non-profit colleges and universities. Non-profit schools operate on a different business model than for-profit schools. Non-profits can’t make money off students through tuition and fees. The money earned by the institution through donations, grants, tuition, state funding, and more must go back into the operating costs of the school, including programs the school offers, salaries for faculty and staff, and the services the school provides to students.

Paying for college is an investment in yourself and your future. Knowing the fundamental differences between colleges and universities and whether they are public or private can help you understand more about what you’re looking for in your college experience and narrow your search parameters.

Goodwin University is a private, non-profit university that offers career-focused degree programs that are flexible and affordable. Goodwin offers student support services to help you get the most out of your time in college, and we offer lifetime career services to help you secure a rewarding career. Whether you’re looking to change careers or advance in your current job, Goodwin is ready to help you get started.

Visit us to learn more about Goodwin University’s career-focused degrees and certificate programs. We’re ready when you are!