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Types of Colleges

When most students talk about planning for college, they really mean that they are planning for education beyond the secondary level. Many don’t know that institutions of higher learning can be classified into a number of categories. There are colleges, universities, community (or junior) colleges, vocational or technical schools, and specialized institutes. A student may even apply to schools in different categories. That’s fine as long as they have done enough research to see which ones best fit their needs, abilities, and interests.

Let’s take a look at the various options that are available to high school graduates and how each is defined.

College - An institution of higher education that offers a curriculum leading to a four-year bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. The primary focus is on undergraduate education. (Should these agree? Arts and sciences or art and science?)

University - A typical university has a liberal arts college as well as several specialized colleges and graduate programs in such fields at business, engineering, medicine, law, agriculture, nursing, and the arts.

Liberal Arts - A four-year institution that emphasizes a broad undergraduate education. It offers exposure to the sciences, history, philosophy, music ,and art. Pre-professional and professional training may be offered, but not stressed. Most liberal arts institutions are private.

Community College/Junior College - A post-secondary institution that typically offers courses parallel to the freshmen and sophomore offerings at four-year colleges and universities. In addition to these programs that offer students the opportunity to transfer to a four-year school, many community colleges offer career-oriented certificate programs or associate’s degrees for students concerned with finding immediate employment.

Military School - Federal military academies prepare officers for the armed forces—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. These institutions require recommendations and appointments (or endorsements) by members of Congress. Private and state-supported military schools and the Coast Guard Academy operate on a college application basis. Their degree programs offered are usually in the areas of business, engineering, technology, and military science.

Engineering or Technical College - This type of college is an independent professional institution that provides training programs in the fields of engineering, technology, and the physical sciences. They are often known as Institutes of Technology or Polytechnic Institutes and their degree programs range from four to five years for completion.

Vocational or Technical School - This kind of institution is similar to a community college in that it offers specific career-oriented programs that last from a few months to a couple of years. Most are specialized and offer intense training in one specific skill area.

Nursing School - Some nursing schools are affiliated with hospitals and students receive R.N. (registered nurse) degrees upon completion of training. Others are affiliated with colleges or universities where graduates receive an R.N. degree and a bachelor’s degree both, as well as preparation for careers in nursing administration.(The latter career choice may require further study leading to a graduate (master’s or doctoral) degree.)

Art Schools (or Institutes)- The principal focus of this specialized type of institution is the study of the visual, performing, and/or creative arts. If it is accredited as a college, an art school or art institute may grant its graduates a bachelor or master of fine arts (B.FA or M.FA) degree. (Many colleges and universities also have art schools as a part of their program offerings.)


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Don Munce