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Types of Colleges: Your Options After High School

While people use the general term “college” to describe the school you attend after high school, did you know there is actually a difference between a college and a university? Colleges tend to be smaller, while universities usually offer a larger variety of degrees and may even be made up of multiple colleges.
And the differences you will uncover when choosing a college don’t stop there. There are major differences between public and private colleges and universities, community colleges and vocational schools.
When you are learning about a prospective institution of higher education, it helps to be able to identify what type of school it is and if that is the right choice for you. Here are brief descriptions of the most common types of colleges and universities you will come across as you decide what to do after high school:

Community Colleges

Also known as junior colleges, these institutions offer two-year programs that will earn you an associate’s or liberal arts degree, and the curriculum often includes specialized career training and certification.
Community colleges are a wonderful option for students who want to further their educations close to home while expanding future college and career opportunities. Because community colleges receive public tax dollars at the local, state and federal levels, tuition is very low when compared to four-year public and private institutions. Community colleges design their two-year programs to transfer credits to a four-year college or university, so after a few semesters at a community college, you can transfer and go on to earn a bachelor of arts or science at a four-year school with many of your general education requirements behind you.

Career Colleges and Vocational/Technical Schools

These institutions offer specialized programs that prepare students for a specific trade or industry. Career colleges are worth considering if you are focused on a specific field or have already identified your ideal career, such as being a chef or an auto mechanic. Be sure to check that the college is accredited and which classes and credits will transfer to public colleges and universities in case you decide to go on to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree later.

Liberal Arts Colleges 

These schools offer four-year degree programs focused on a general liberal arts education in the humanities and sciences (including art, literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics and science). The ending degree is a bachelor’s in liberal arts rather than in a particular subject area or specific discipline as a major or minor. Liberal arts undergraduates often go on to graduate schools or professional schools to earn degrees in medicine, law, business or theology.

Public 4-Year Colleges

Public four-year colleges offer undergraduate programs that lead to a bachelor's degree in the arts or sciences (B.A. or B.S.) -- they do not offer graduate programs. They are public, because they receive taxpayer funding from their states and the federal government. If you are in-state, or a resident of the state where the school is, your tuition will be much more affordable, because you and your family have paid taxes that help support these colleges. If you are out-of-state, meaning you do not live in the state where the school is located, the tuition is substantially higher, and you may want to consider your college financing and financial aid offers when deciding to attend an out-of-state college.

Public Universities

Different from public colleges, public universities generally consist of three types of schools: colleges where you earn a bachelor's degree, professional schools and graduate schools. Universities offer advanced post-graduate educational opportunities, such as master's degrees and doctoral degrees. They may include schools of medicine and law. Many students go from colleges into universities to earn advanced degrees.

Private Colleges and Universities

These private institutions are funded primarily by organizational endowments, alumni contributions and other funding outside of government agencies and taxpayer funds. The cost of attending private colleges and universities is usually much higher than public colleges and universities. Although tuition may cost more, do not count these private colleges and universities out -- they tend to offer more financial aid and scholarships than public institutions.


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Don Munce