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Worth it to Apply to Private Colleges?

  1. Jun 13, 2012 #1
    I'm a community college student and I want to transfer to a 4 year institution to get a BS in Math or Computer Science (or a major/minor combination of the two). Anyway, I've been thinking of applying to UCs (University of California) and the Cal Polys (part of the Cal State system, but good technical schools). I'd like to go somewhere with smaller class sizes though. I have good grades (3.9), but I only recently thought about applying to private schools... my question is will the education be better than it would be at the Cal Polys or UCs? Would I be doing myself a grave disservice by not applying to private universities and LACs? I know these are very general questions that don't have black and white answers, but any insight would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2012 #2


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    There are some very good private colleges, though they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For instance, you could attend Bates or Colby here in Maine, and end up over $200K in debt when you graduate. Then, what is the marketability of your degree?

    Paying down that much debt can be daunting. I would suggest contacting the financial-aid officers at some public schools to see if you can get an aid package that might allow you to graduate without owing too much money.

    Re: class sizes. Initial class sizes will be pretty large (choose your definition of "large", because I had Chem and Phys lectures with more than 100 Engineering students), but as you get to the more advanced courses, class size will be smaller and smaller. One advantage of attending a larger university is that there may be more specialized courses available to you. Good luck!!!
  4. Jun 13, 2012 #3

    The "list price" for private colleges can be misleading (see above). As turbo stated, the larger institutions can have a greater selection. However, large classes, more time with TAs than Profs in some cases, etc. leave the much better student/teacher ratio of private colleges appealing. I could walk into any of my Profs office without an appointment to chat about a class problem, professional opportunity, graduate school, recommendation, etc. without them having to pick up a folder with my name on it to see who I am and how I'm doing in his/her class. I had friends that went to two different universities, and they both commented on the same thing, although I suspect there was some exaggeration. In favor of the larger universities, I would suspect it may be easier to get into their graduate program after going through their undergraduate program, but I could be wrong.
  5. Jun 13, 2012 #4
    I did my BA at a private college. Our math department was pretty small and so we had interesting problems like important courses being offered only at specific times, or having very tiny class sizes for the most advanced courses. (For example, they only offered analysis about once every two years, and there were only two people taking complex analysis the most recent time it was offered.) The faculty were great, though, and you could get a lot of individual attention. As for money, the school I went to offered a lot of financial aid. I don't think it's common to offer as much as my school did. Something like 90% of all students were receiving funding of some kind. I didn't qualify for any need-based aid, but I still got about half my tuition waived because there were so many scholarships available.
  6. Jun 13, 2012 #5
    It definitely depends on the school. Like someone else said above, some schools can give you massive amounts of aid that make everything worth it, but there are some that don't.

    Since you have such a high GPA, you'll probably get scholarships and grants based on that. I graduated with Phi Theta Kappa honors, and one of the schools I applied to gave me an $11,000 renewable grant just for being an honor transfer student, plus all the other aid. In the end it came out to only about $6000 left over, which was around the same as the public university. So it ultimately came down to which program fit me best, and I decided that since they didn't have any astronomy courses at all I would choose the public university.

    So in short: Yes, I would say it's worth it, especially if you're a good student. If there's a program that you're really interested in, there's the possibility that the private college will cost around the same as the public university. They actually tend to have better aid because they receive more private investors than public schools do.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012
  7. Jun 13, 2012 #6
    Interesting that you point out my interest in particular programs...the truth is I don't feel like I know enough to even know what programs might interest me. How would I go about finding out what different undergrad programs emphases are?
  8. Jun 14, 2012 #7
  9. Jun 14, 2012 #8
    For physics and engineering and such, I looked at what kind of research was going on there. The professors' university webpages often include their CVs, so I chose UNLV over Westminster because many of the physics faculty work with NASA and focus on research on black holes and gamma ray bursts. Westminster had nothing like that, and there were only two or three professors, which had me worried... What if I didn't get along with any of them?

    But for math... that might be a little more tricky, to figure out what program would be better. My advice would be to find out as much as you can about faculty, and see if they're working on anything interesting, or if they've focused on anything of particular interest to you. An old friend of mine chose a math program because the faculty had a background in economics like he did. For the most part, I would look at the course offerings to see if anything stands out. Also, for math, try to make sure the program is well-rounded... if I remember right, either Westminster or another school I was considering didn't have any differential equations courses. That was just weird to me.

    When looking at computer science for myself, I was always intrigued by things like AI and robotics. Go to all sorts of college websites and see if anything makes you go "Oooooh, that looks cool!"
  10. Jun 14, 2012 #9
    I'm assuming you are talking about MIT physics? I know at least one MIT undergrad got into MIT's math phd program this year.
  11. Jun 14, 2012 #10
    I didn't say that it was impossible, only that many schools make it more difficult to get into their graduate program if you got your bachelor's there as well.
  12. Jun 18, 2012 #11
    A very important consideration for me is how receptive private colleges would be to transfer students from community colleges, especially students trying to transfer in as a junior but are slightly older than traditional junior cohorts. I am 24, and I'll turn 25 a couple months before I start my junior year... I've heard schools like Stanford and Caltech are almost impossible to transfer to because someone already in the class has to drop out. Anyone have experience with this?

    Oh, and I don't have a 3.9, I have a 4.0 as of this semester that just ended. I do have an F from a couple years ago because I totally botched the withdrawal process, but I retook that class for an A so my transcript shows a 4.0. Anyway...
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
  13. Jun 19, 2012 #12
    I'm slightly older than you, and haven't had a problem with my age. So far I haven't been turned down from any schools, though that could just be careful consideration of my chances. I don't think most colleges care about age. If you can do the work, can pay the bill, and have good grades, then your age shouldn't matter.

    Agreed that Stanford and Caltech are impossible to transfer into, but that's mostly because everyone is applying, not that they're averse to transfer students. A lot of times they get more transfer applications than freshman, because people think they can prove their worth better with a couple years of college under their belt than fresh out of high school. But I've never applied to any of them, so I don't have any actual experience with them. I never wanted to bother, though I really wanted Cornell, because of my measly 3.6 and a few Cs in old math classes on my transcript. :p
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