Nowadays it seems like everybody is allowed to have an opinion on your chosen education, no matter if you are at a FH, public university, college or if you happen to choose one of around 12 private institutions in Austria. As soon as you decide to go into higher education, you open yourself up to an array of interrogations by friends and family that usually start with the dreaded „So, what are you going to do with that degree?“. Yet, in the case of private students, it is immediately followed by „How much do you pay?“.

If I had a dollar for every time I was greeted with the obligatory „You’re at a private university? You’re parents must be rich!“ I might actually be able to afford Webster. But this is only one of many prejudices that come along with being at an university that uses the word „private“ in their title. So here are some quick answers to the 5 most common „alternative facts“ private students encounter:

We are „credit card children“.

Being a private student is rough. First you have to get up in the morning and decide which of the 5 bathrooms to use in your very own penthouse, then there is no parking spot for your Porsche and by the time you are in class you realize that your Chanel costume isn’t the right color (on Wednesdays we wear pink). Thank goodness, this stress can be easily avoided by the fact that we are all normal and borderline broke university students whose main mode of transportation is the struggle bus. We live in normal student dorms, distribute flyers around the city to make those few extra bucks and every now and then we spoil ourselves by adding a Sundae to our regular McDonald’s order. Yes, we do own credit cards but, unfortunately, they are connected to our own accounts.  

Our parents are all swimming in money. 

Yes, private universities usually require payments that exceed the usual student budget. Therefore, some students – yet not all – get financial support from home to be able to pay their studies. Yet, whoever now pictures these parents to throw out the cash in bundles of dollars as if it’s nothing, is mistaken. Usually the path to a private university is paved by harsh negotiations. Imagine shark tank, but instead of business moguls you have to convince your parents to invest in an education that could be for free in another form at a different university. I always thought that any student who could come out of these debates with a „yes“ should be handed a business degree right away. A private institution is an investment in the future which some parents are able to help out with, often by making some sacrifices for their children.  

We buy our grades.

Oh, how we all wish this could be true. The most persistent prejudice about private universities is still that all we have to do is to simply staple a 50 Euro bill to our essays and end up with an „A“ in that class. First of all, we all know that anything higher than a B+ costs at least 100 Euros or more and, secondly, the only thing we would get in return is a disciplinary hearing. If you want to have good grades you still have to go the old-fashioned way at any private university: studying, studying, studying and investing those 50 Euro in one or two Starbucks drinks that you down after an all-nighter in the library. In any way, why do people assume we are even able to afford to buy our grades after paying the semester tuition?

No course work. 

It is easy to assume that private students just pay their semester tuition and then peace out for the reminder of the year until it is time to enroll in the next courses. In the end, we just have to pay right? Once you enter Webster, you will quickly realize a different reality: mandatory course meetings, presentations, field trips, essays over essay and by god do our professors love group projects. The amount of work that goes into a single course is enough to sometimes question the life choices we made to end up here but is rewarding nonetheless. One perk of a private university is certainly the smaller class sizes which means individual attention and the ability of the professor to give tremendous amounts of homework that they are actually able to grade. There is more than one night in the semester where we sit over the 8th research paper of the semester about “War on Terror and Western Superiority” and consider dropping out to start a new life.

The real deal:
As a student at Webster, you are basically earning your minor in “Time Management” on the side. A group presentation about mergers and acquisitions in the morning, writing an essay about public relations strategies during lunch break, quickly learning the hard facts about world civilizations for the weekly “short answer” quiz in the afternoon (if you consider writing two research papers within 90min a “short answer quiz”) and in the evening, we “pregame” by researching what is left of our social lives. Combine this with the daily hustle of a part time job and being involved within the university community and you know why private students run on a lot of coffee and little sleep … and we chose to pay for this. ;)

We didn’t succeed in public university. 

Once I finally wiggled my way through all of the above questions with friends and family, it usually ends up at the same: “Why didn’t you stay in public university then? Did you fail your courses?“ A private university is not the last resort for students to get a degree after all other plans have failed. I, myself, have experienced a different university before finding my new one. Indeed, I failed my courses but mainly due to the fact that you have to show up to tests in order to pass them. I realized that it just was not the right place for me, simple as that. Some prefer to study from home while others favor interactive classes. Some enjoy having the freedom of pacing their own studies while others enjoy the structure their advisors give them. Some like to separate their study and private lives while others like to take advantage of a tight-knit community. After all, it comes down to individual preferences and how you want to spend the nervous breakdowns on the road to your degree.  

In the end we are all just students who want the term “Bachelor“ to not only describe our relationship status and who try to finally escape the cycle of „what are you going to do with your degree“ at the yearly family gatherings. 

And to answer the last remaining question: “How much do you pay?“ 

My soul, a few extra bucks and the 19,70€ for the ÖH.