Going Public: Why You Should Consider America's State Universities

Application Strategy

Going Public: Why You Should Consider America's State Universities

Many applicants focus their attention solely on private universities. This isn’t a bad place to start, by any means: schools like the University of Chicago, Stanford and liberal arts colleges such as Middlebury are all excellent institutions, to say nothing of the Ivy League’s sterling reputation. However, American state universities offer some of the best value in higher education and are highly accessible to international students. Here's my story.

As an undergraduate I attended Indiana University, a school with over 42,000 students. Attending a state "flagship" (so called because it the best public school in the state) is a fundamentally different experience than studying at a liberal arts college or a private research university and it’s not for everyone, but for me the experience was very positive for both my academic career and social life. The sheer size of many public universities can be discouraging to some, yet I would argue that from this breadth originates many of their greatest strengths. Let’s consider some of the benefits of attending a larger school that relate to its size.


While the word “diversity” is often overused in the college admissions process, it’s still a good way to describe public universities. My graduating class at Indiana had students from over 165 countries and every American state plus a variety of professional and socioeconomic backgrounds. Among these students I made lasting friendships and professional contacts both within the United States and abroad, plus I can connect with a much larger pool of alumni in various companies around the world when I am job hunting or looking to enter a new professional field. The opportunity to benefit from peer learning, collaboration and cultural exchange is immense as your classmates will challenge the way you see the world.


If you have a specialized field of study in mind or want a variety of options, consider a public university.Indiana, for example, offers over 120 majors and study in 60 languages, many of which are not available elsewhere in the States. As a student, you will have access to professors in all of these fields and can fully explore your interests in any academic subject—including some you have probably never heard of before. Public universities will allow you greater customization of your academic program and freedom to choose your classes, while many private schools will have more specific requirements or a “core curriculum” that all students must follow.


From a purely monetary perspective, public universities have lower tuition rates due to support from state governments. Many also have specific scholarships available to international students as well as extra resources and orientation to help you settle in a new community. Similarly, many public universities will have a special division or honors college for top students that offer many of the same benefits as a liberal arts school—smaller class sizes, personal mentors and access to advanced coursework and research opportunities. These elite programs offer the best of both worlds for highly motivated students.

Active campus life

Large campuses are like small cities—this can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. Small colleges will have a quieter, more intimate campus environment. Public universities may feel more bustling and urban, especially when class is in session, despite the fact that they are usually located away from major cities. If you want to take on leadership responsibilities within a student club or organization, then you will have numerous opportunities to do so and develop organizational management and financial skills, or simply join groups that interest you. Large gatherings for concerts, major lectures, or football and basketball games might attract tens of thousands of spectators. It can be exhilarating, and as a student you can choose to participate in all or none of these things—if you prefer solitude and quiet study, that’s an option too.

These are just a few points to consider when evaluating schools before you apply and shouldn't be the sole basis for your decision. Above all, it’s important for you as a prospective student to think about what environment suits you best—public or private, big or small—because there is no correct answer for everyone. This is a subject that I will return to in the future, so look for more to come in the weeks to come.