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Exploring Different Types of Colleges

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    Knowing How to Create a Balanced College List can be difficult. Especially if you aren’t sure what types of colleges and universities are out there. Did you know that there are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in the US? And each one has something slightly different to offer! It’s no wonder that researching colleges can feel overwhelming.

    The best way to start researching colleges is to learn about different types of colleges in the US. In this article we will explain some of the key differences among various types of colleges and universities, such as liberal arts colleges, community colleges, vocational schools, and public universities. We will also explore different types of colleges with special focuses, such as women’s colleges, military academies, religious colleges, music conservatories, and more. 

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    What’s the difference between colleges and universities?

    college campus To start off, what are the differences between colleges and universities?

    The terms “college” and “university” are often used interchangeably. This can cause a lot of confusion, especially for international students. As a result, many students find themselves wondering, “are colleges and universities the same?”

    Colleges and universities are different from one another. In general, universities are large schools with a wide range of college majors that receive public funding. It’s also worth noting that there are different types of university degrees, including both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Colleges, however, tend to be smaller, more specialized, and focus on undergraduate degrees. They are also more likely to be privately owned.  

    So, what are some of the pros and cons of attending a college? What about a university? 

    Colleges tend to be smart choices for students who already know what they want to major in and prefer smaller class sizes and more individualized attention. Professors who teach at colleges, as opposed to universities, often prioritize teaching over their own research. At universities, where research funding is much more robust, this is less often the case. It’s also worth noting that university classes are sometimes taught by graduate students, which isn’t the case at colleges. The drawbacks of attending a college often include less cultural diversity and fewer academic programs to choose from.

    Universities are great for students who value cultural diversity, research opportunities, and are interested in receiving in-state tuition. Universities offer a wide range of college majors, so if you don’t know what you want to study yet, a university may be the place for you! On a related note, if you want to major in something specific — like Agricultural Sciences, Health Care Administration, or Meteorology — attending a university is often your best option, as colleges are less likely to offer these college majors. 

    What’s the difference between colleges and universities?

    To start off, what are the differences between colleges and universities?

    The terms “college” and “university” are often used interchangeably. This can cause a lot of confusion, especially for international students. As a result, many students find themselves wondering, “are colleges and universities the same?”

    Colleges and universities are different from one another. In general, universities are large schools with a wide range of college majors that receive public funding. It’s also worth noting that there are different types of university degrees, including both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Colleges, however, tend to be smaller, more specialized, and focus on undergraduate degrees. They are also more likely to be privately owned.  

    So, what are some of the pros and cons of attending a college? What about a university? 

    Colleges tend to be smart choices for students who already know what they want to major in and prefer smaller class sizes and more individualized attention. Professors who teach at colleges, as opposed to universities, often prioritize teaching over their own research. At universities, where research funding is much more robust, this is less often the case. It’s also worth noting that university classes are sometimes taught by graduate students, which isn’t the case at colleges. The drawbacks of attending a college often include less cultural diversity and fewer academic programs to choose from.

    Universities are great for students who value cultural diversity, research opportunities, and are interested in receiving in-state tuition. Universities offer a wide range of college majors, so if you don’t know what you want to study yet, a university may be the place for you! On a related note, if you want to major in something specific — like Agricultural Sciences, Health Care Administration, or Meteorology — attending a university is often your best option, as colleges are less likely to offer these college majors. 

    college campus

    Public vs. private schools

    Now that we’ve discussed the differences between colleges and universities, let’s explore the differences between public schools and private schools. As previously noted, colleges are mostly private, whereas universities are mostly public. But what does that mean for students?

    Whether you decide to attend a public or private school mostly affects your financial aid package. For more information about financial aid, check out these articles: Everything You Should Know About FAFSA and College Financial Planning – An Overview.  

    Public schools receive funding from the government and are able to offer in-state tuition. In most cases, public universities have a lower cost of attendance than private colleges. That being said, private colleges are often able to offer generous financial aid packages. This means that, depending on your family’s income, attending a private college may turn out to be more affordable than attending different types of state schools. It’s also worth noting that in many instances, private schools are much more selective than public schools. So while attending a private school may turn out to be cheaper for many students, first, you have to get in!

    There are lots of different types of colleges and universities, including lots of different types of private schools. Check out some of the ​​Top Public Universities in the West and Private Colleges and Universities in the East during your college research. And if you’re interested in studying the sciences, be sure to check out these Top STEM Schools in the Nation and Their Programs!

    2-year vs. 4-year schools

    There are two broad types of colleges: 2-year colleges and 4-year colleges. The main difference between 2-year and 4-year colleges is that 2-year colleges offer associate’s degrees and 4-year colleges offer bachelor’s degrees. 

    Liberal arts colleges are a popular type of 4-year college, whereas community colleges are a popular type of 2-year college. Whether you decide to attend a 2-year or 4-year college depends on your career goals and oftentimes, your finances. Many students start their college education at a 2-year college before transferring to a 4-year university so that they can go on to get their bachelor’s degree. 

    For more information on transferring to a 4-year college, check out our article, The Ultimate Guide to Transferring Credit from Community Colleges to Universities.

    What’s a liberal arts college?

    college students As previously mentioned, liberal arts colleges are a popular type of 4-year college. But what is a liberal arts college, exactly? 

    Liberal arts colleges are small, 4-year colleges that emphasize the humanities and the importance of having a well-rounded education. They tend to offer fewer college majors, such as: Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, History, and Foreign Languages. Ivy League colleges are all liberal arts colleges. 

    For more information on liberal arts colleges, check out these noteworthy Liberal Arts Colleges in the East and Liberal Arts Colleges in the West. And if you have dreams of attending an Ivy League institution, check out our comprehensive guide, Breaking Down The Ivy League

    What’s a liberal arts college?

    As previously mentioned, liberal arts colleges are a popular type of 4-year college. But what is a liberal arts college, exactly? 

    Liberal arts colleges are small, 4-year colleges that emphasize the humanities and the importance of having a well-rounded education. They tend to offer fewer college majors, such as: Literature, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, History, and Foreign Languages. Ivy League colleges are all liberal arts colleges. 

    For more information on liberal arts colleges, check out these noteworthy Liberal Arts Colleges in the East and Liberal Arts Colleges in the West. And if you have dreams of attending an Ivy League institution, check out our comprehensive guide, Breaking Down The Ivy League

    college students

    Community colleges and trade schools

    As previously discussed, there are lots of different types of colleges and universities. But did you know that there are different types of trade schools, too? 

    Trade schools, also known as vocational schools, prepare students for specific careers through a practical, hands-on education. Attending a trade school is a cheaper and quicker way to join the workforce and can lead to a variety of well-respected careers. 

    Here are some different types of vocational schools you may want to consider:

    • Carpentry Trade Schools
    • Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Programs
    • Cosmetology School
    • Culinary Arts Programs
    • Electrical Trade Schools
    • HVAC Programs
    • Massage Therapy Trade Schools
    • Mechanic Trade Schools
    • Medical Assisting Programs
    • Plumbing Programs
    • Welding Programs

    Other types of colleges

    Art colleges: As the name implies, art colleges focus on visual and performing art programs. Students who attend art schools tend to major in disciplines such as: Ceramics, Creative Writing, Fashion Design, Fiber Arts, and Graphic Arts. Interior Design, Music Performance, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, and Sculpture. Art schools often have impressive studios with a wide variety of tools and equipment.

    HBCUs: Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black students were not permitted to attend traditionally white colleges and universities. As a result, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established. These colleges honor their legacies by emphasizing diversity in their student body, curriculum, and hiring practices. There are over 100 HBCUs in the US. For more information, check out our article, What is an HBCU?

    Hispanic-serving institutions: According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities website: “The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, founded in 1986, represents more than 500 colleges and universities in the United States, Latin America, Spain, and school districts throughout the U.S. HACU is the only national association representing existing and emerging Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). The Association’s headquarters are in San Antonio, Texas, with regional offices in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, California.” 

    Military academies: Students interested in joining the Military, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Marines may choose to enroll in a military academy. These academies include: the United States Military Academy (West Point, New York), the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, Maryland), the United States Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, Colorado), the United States Coast Guard Academy (New London, Connecticut), and the United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point, New York). For more information on top military academies, check out our article, Getting Into West Point and The Air Force Academy. 

    Music conservatories: Students intent on studying a musical instrument in-depth may choose to attend a music conservatory where musical performance, research, and composition are the school’s focus.

    Religious colleges: According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), there are approximately 900 religiously affiliated colleges and universities within the US. These colleges may have Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Islamic affiliations.

    Tribal colleges and universities: Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are primarily located on reservations and serve Native American students. According to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium: “The 35 accredited TCUs operate more than 90 campuses and sites in 15 states—covering most of Indian Country—and serve students from well more than 250 federally recognized Indian tribes.” 

    Women’s colleges: Believe it or not, co-education colleges only began gaining popularity in the 1970s. Before that, if a woman wanted to attend college, they needed to attend a women’s college. In order to honor this legacy, women’s colleges emphasize issues such as women’s rights and gender equality. In the 1960’s, there were over 200 women’s colleges; now there are fewer than 50 women’s colleges in the US. For more information, check out our article, What is a Women’s College? Best Women’s Colleges in the US.

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    As you can see, there are a lot of different types of colleges and universities in the US. After all, with nearly 4,000 colleges and universities, there is bound to be some variety! From trade schools and community colleges, to large research universities, to HBCUs and Women’s Colleges, there are lots of different kinds of colleges, with all sorts of different values and priorities. Do yourself a favor and explore a few different kinds of colleges during your research. And when you do, make sure to bring your College Campus Tour Checklist with you!

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