Different Types of Colleges and Universities

College Degree Finder

As you probably already suspect, all colleges are not the same. In fact, there are several different types of colleges. The first step in determining which college you want to attend is to decide what type of college appeals to you. Below are the basic types of colleges you’ll find in the United States.

Two-year and Four-year Colleges

Community colleges, junior colleges and technical colleges are types of two-year colleges that offer degree and professional certificate programs that can be completed in two years. These colleges usually fall into one of two categories. These include:

  • The first type of community college offers “Transfer” programs, or basic freshman- and sophomore level courses, where you earn credits that can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university. Typically you’ll complete 60 semester hours while attending a community college and earn your associate of art degree in preparation for your bachelor’s degree.
  • Other community and technical colleges offer “Terminal” programs in specific career oriented and technical fields such as HVAC repair, aviation mechanics, nursing, cosmetology, etc. These programs allow students to earn a certificate (typically a one-year program) or associate in applied sciences degree (a two-year program). Terminal programs are specifically designed to help prepare students for entry-level job positions.

In contrast to universities that are located in only a few locations in each state, community colleges can be found in most cities nationwide. Convenient locations, improved curriculum, along with lower costs and open admission, make a community college a realistic alternative to attending a four-year university. Most community colleges are geared toward students who will be commuting to school from home, and consequently don’t typically offer on-campus housing.

Four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs designed to prepare students for entry-level career positions in a variety of fields. Many colleges and universities also offer graduate-level programs including master’s and doctoral degrees. Four-year higher education institutions are often divided in colleges and schools (for example, School of Business, College of Graphic Design, etc.) and are called universities.

Four-year colleges and universities have a few characteristics that distinguish them from community and junior colleges. Universities usually have extensive library and computer resources available to their students, they have distinguished, experienced faculty, a large variety of academic programs, athletic programs, research opportunities and most have a very good reputation. A lot of four-year colleges and universities also offer on-campus housing for those students who desire it. In short, four-year colleges and universities offer a larger array of services, activities, programs and prestige than community colleges.

Public vs Private Colleges

Public and private colleges and universities are different. Public colleges receive a substantial amount of their funding from U.S. tax payers. Consequently, they are under the supervision of local, state and federal governing authorities. Public colleges and universities typically set their own tuition rates, and the fees they charge can vary greatly from institution to institution. As out-of-state residents do not contribute to the tax pool their tuition is usually higher than that of in-state students. However, tuition and other costs at state colleges are still considered low when compared with tuition requirements at private universities.

Since private colleges are not publicly funded, tuition and fees at these institutions are usually higher than for public colleges. Many private colleges are church affiliated and receive funding via their church organization. Private colleges do not rely on public funding and are not supervised by any governmental agencies. Consequently, they have much more liberty to run their school as they see fit. Many private universities are some of the most reputable and prestigious universities in the world.

Both public and private universities offer financial aid and scholarships to their students. In addition, many private and public institutions depend on endowments and donations to help keep their costs down.

Church Affiliated Colleges and Universities

All church affiliated colleges are private institutions. Because of the separation of church and state, as mandated by the U.S. constitution, no public funding can be used by private religious education institutions. As such, church affiliate colleges rely on fees charged to students, denominational contributions, and endowments and donations to fund their operations. Students attending church affiliated institutions are often required to attend certain religious classes or courses and may have to meet special entrance requirements.

Ethnic Minority Colleges

Many higher education institutions have been established with a goal of serving the educational needs of minority students. These institutions usually have a large number of minority students including Hispanics, Native Americans, African-Americans and Asians. These institutions typically also have significantly more minority professors than other colleges. Minority colleges are very attractive to minority students who like attending college where the other students share their ethnic background.

Same Sex Colleges

It may seem a bit antiquated to some but there exist many colleges that are not coed. Historically, only men went to college. However, over time colleges were established for women as well, and one by one even the male colleges opened their doors to women students. Today there are still a number of all women colleges designed to provide an environment where women take more leadership roles and are able to learn without the distraction or intimidation of men. These colleges typically provide excellent education and mentoring opportunities for women.

Specialty Colleges

Specialty schools and colleges focus on one specific field of study, such as engineering, business, music or art. While these colleges are often smaller than other colleges and universities, their laser focused attention to a specific subject matter often yields very qualified graduates. This type of college is not the best choice of college if you’re not yet decided on a major, or are seeking a liberal arts education. However, it may be an excellent choice if you know exactly what field of study you interested in or which career you’re going to pursue.