Private and Public Education: You Get What You Pay For

You truly get what you pay for – in life and in education. A Forbes article listed 25 expensive colleges and universities and deemed them “worth every penny.” Having gone to one of the top 10 schools on the list, I can attest that there is a significant difference between private and public education.

When it comes to pre-medical and medical studies, we are told when applying to college and medical school that it doesn’t matter where you go because you’ll be a doctor anyway. In fact, we are often discouraged to rake up more student loans by refuting an acceptance from a better, more expensive school.  Some students even turn to combined programs (gaining entry into medical school after just 2-3 years of college) to save a year or two of tuition.

The decision to attend a private or public school for either college or medical education is entirely personal. When I was younger, of course, I listened to the advice of my elders because I didn’t know any better. Now, having my own experiences in higher education, I vow to only send my future children to the best schools they can get into.

While a private school affords more opportunities, students at public colleges can end up at good medical schools and medical students at public schools do end up getting competitive residencies. It boils down to your values and what you seek from your education. If all you want is the degree, then paying the least amount of money is the best option. If you something more than just a piece of paper with your name on it, the cost is worth it.

There is a drastic difference between a public institution and private one. For one, the caliber of students is noticeable. When I was in college, the students who attended the Ivy League – and I presume any other top college and university– had more than one dimension. They had more skills and hobbies and interests than just school work. My classmates were Olympic fencers, artists, filmmakers, researchers who spoke multiple languages and also had a social life. They were well-learned, but also well-traveled and well-spoken. Students had an itch to do more and experience more in life than just sit in a classroom. There was an all-roundedness to the student body and a vivacity that is virtually non-existent at no name university. Everything I have learned about patient communication and showing empathy, I have learned from my liberal arts education in college.

In college, professors I had for my classes felt like colleagues. They treated you like equals and valued your opinion. In conversation, I was never talked down upon or felt like I was insignificant. I had a voice and I wasn’t just a student number.

Medicine has a hierarchy and certain faculty won’t let you forget that. They will use certain tactics such as calling you out in class and virtually embarrassing you if you don’t know the answer. There’s a time and a place to play these games – in recess, in elementary school. These tactics shouldn’t be employed in medical school. If though you are paying half the tuition cost at a public school, you should not be treated like half a person.

There is an obvious fact that public schools have less funding and resources in general. These are little things that may seem insignificant at first, but truly hinder your work flow throughout the day. I am referring to broken equipment, computers, or lab equipment. Private universities are often great research institutions as well and with that comes not only greater opportunities to do research, but also learn and network with others by attending guest lectures and medical seminars and other events.

All things considered, if you had to chose between spending a few more $100,000’s on you education, I would advise to do so.

It is worth every penny.

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.

1 Comment

  1. Ms. Kumar,

    During your “all-rounded” educational experience you did not learn proper English grammar, syntax, or style.

    Further, you do not compare your personal experience with private institutions to personal experience with public institutions.

    Why should we believe that you are correct?

    Why do you believe that you are correct?


    Someone who attended both elite private and elite public educational institutions