This article presents an exploratory study using survey data collected at two universities in the United States to compare the criteria that public and private university students use when selecting the colleges/universities to which they applied. The importance of university selection criteria differs between those who attend public and private institutions. Private university students appear to evaluate reputation, selectivity, personal interaction, facilities and cost, whereas public university students evaluate programs, athletics, reputation, cost, housing and location, although the findings lend support for different interpretations of common factors. Whereas reputation for students at public institutions was limited to perceptions of a quality education and accreditation, students at private institutions viewed reputation as including name recognition, reputation of the university and reputation of the faculty. These findings suggest that although university branding initiatives need to be customized by type of institution, both student types now seek a modern university experience that includes the latest technology, community involvement and an attractive campus environment.