I am curious about to what degree and how, if any, type of educational institution (public vs. private) has an impact on long-term career perspectives in academia (with eventual target of a tenure-track faculty member). For the purposes of this question, please assume we are talking mostly about educational institutions in the U.S. with a very high research activity per Carnegie Classification.

  • Are you looking for data and/or formal studies of this (if so, tag it reference-request), or will answers of the form "In my experience, it makes no difference" suffice?
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 2:33
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    Could you clarify what you're looking for? Are you asking how the chances of getting a tenure-track job compare for graduates of public and private universities? (Or maybe for employees of such universities who are not yet on the tenure track? I'm having trouble telling what you mean.) Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 2:41
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    Incidentally, this is an interesting theoretical topic, but it's worth noting that nobody should choose between admission/employment offers on this basis. (If you want to know whether graduates of a given department have careers of the sort you'd like, it's far more informative to look into the actual track record in recent years, rather than trying to guess based on combining weak indicators like public vs. private status.) Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 2:47
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    What's a "career perspective"? Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 2:52
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    I think the public-vs.-private distinction that you asked about is essentially irrelevant to career prospects. There are excellent public universities and excellent private universities, which lead to good career prospects. There are also lousy public universities and lousy private universities, which lead to lousy career prospects. (Actually, that's an oversimplification, since there can be good departments or good individual professors in lousy universities, and vice versa.) Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


It is often held that the strongest determinant for career is the strength of a university in one's particular sub-field. We might then reasonably guess that we can coarsely evaluate the strength of "public" vs. "private" by comparing the ranking of graduate schools (bearing in mind, of course, all the well-known problems with rankings).

Considering a test case then, the current top 10 American engineering grad schools, according to US News, are:

  • Private: MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Caltech, USC
  • Public: Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Purdue, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, UT Austin

Yes, that's 11 schools in the top 10, because they list ties in their rankings. The breakdown appears remarkably balanced, and scanning further down the list it appears to stay reasonably balanced. Amongst elite universities, then, it appears that public vs. private makes little difference in this case, and is likely to make little difference in others either.

  • Thank you for your answer (+1). While it is nice and makes a lot of sense, I am additionally interested in people's real experiences in terms of moving between very good public and private universities and illuminating important factors and conditions that affect such career moves, if any. Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 19:18

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