Public vs. Private - USA Athletics Scholarships

Public vs. Private


Universities in the US can be categorised into public and private. Unlike the UK, tuition fees in the US are set by the universities themselves. When you are approaching or considering an offer from an American university, due consideration should be given to whether it is a private or public institution. While it may not have any bearing on the athletic pedigree of the school, it can academically.


Public schools are largely supported by state funds rather than private donors or sponsors. Tuition fees are generally cheaper, especially so for Americans attending a university within the State they reside.

Whilst public schools are generally cheaper, that is not to say there are no academically elite public schools. That is patently false. Schools such as North Carolina and Cal-Berkeley are public schools with excellent academics. Tuition fees usually start from around $9,000 for such schools – pro rata cheaper than fees in the UK from 2012 onwards.

Certain states have what is known as a ‘flagship’ system. This is where several universities have branched out from within a public State system. Texas and California are two well known examples of states that operate flagship systems. Texas has 15 educational institutions serving under the umbrella ‘University of Texas’, whilst the ‘University of California’ system has 10 schools.

Public schools will on average have a much higher enrolment than private schools so you will more than likely experience the big school environment as you would at say Birmingham or Manchester.


Private schools are traditionally funded by high tuition fees, endowment, and large donations from alumni and businesses. While the fees are higher, there is a reason for this. You are essentially paying a premium for excellent academics and university reputations. Degrees from private universities are generally held in higher esteem that their public counterparts.  In the various US college ranking lists, it is not until the mid-20s that a public school features.

As stated above, private schools command much higher tuition fees. If you are not on a full scholarship then be aware of the costs you may incur as they can be astronomical. Undergraduate tuition fees at a private university are often in excess of $30,000 per annum, not taking into consideration room and board which can easily be an additional $10,000 per annum. However, one advantage with private schools is that there does tend to be more on offer in terms of scholarships, grants, and financial aid.

Most private schools will be heavily endowed financially and this often leads to fully funded athletic programs, which in turn will benefit you as an athlete.

It is also worth noting that some private schools may have a strong religious affiliation so bear this in mind when applying.

Ivy League

The Ivy League conference represents the academic elite of US colleges. It is comprised of eight colleges, all of which are located on the East Coast. These colleges all compete in NCAA D1. They are:

-          Harvard

-          Yale

-          Cornell

-          Princeton

-          Pennsylvania

-          Dartmouth

-          Brown

-          Columbia

Ivy League schools are unable to offer athletic scholarships, but means-tested financial aid is available if you meet entry criteria. One of our featured athletes, Adam Cotton has recently begun his degree at Harvard.


Whilst cost may be an important consideration when making deciding where to apply, we recommend not restricting your decisions making process to simply public versus private. Instead go back to your original list of factors that were important when deciding: Location, academics, athletics, scholarship etc. There will no doubt be both public and private schools that can match all or most of your criteria.

Also be realistic and honest to yourself. If you are not academically inclined, are you going to enjoy the likes of Stanford?


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