Understand Types of Colleges

Understand the similarities and differences between the certain types of schools.


The list is almost endless — colleges, universities, community colleges, private colleges, public colleges, vocational schools. But what are the differences between them, and where do you begin?

Once you know where you want to end up, then you have to find the right school to get you there. Here's a run-down of the types of options available after high school:

Community and junior colleges

Community and junior colleges generally offer 2-year associate degree programs. For students who decide to continue their studies in a 4-year program, the courses usually transfer to 4-year colleges.

Community colleges offer specialized job training in certain areas, much like vocational schools. They're affordable and prepare students to enter the work force immediately following graduation. It's usually easy to get in and easy to transfer into a 4-year college or university.

Four-year colleges and universities

Four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in many fields of study. Many also offer graduate programs with opportunities to earn a master's degree, doctorate, or professional degree. The curriculum is usually broader than a 2-year school.

Public colleges and universities are subsidized by tax money from the state in which they are located and are generally less expensive than private colleges. However, the low rates are normally available only to residents of the state. Out-of-staters, or non-residents, usually pay higher rates. They also may have limited financial aid funds for students.

Private colleges, on the other hand, are funded through endowments, tuition, and donations. The cost of attending a private college is usually higher than a public university. But don't rule private school out only because of cost! Private colleges often offer financial aid options that make their cost feasible.

Vocational training schools

Vocational training schools are privately owned and operated schools that offer a wide variety of training options, such as computer technology, cosmetology, mechanical repair, court reporting, paralegal services, office administration, and medical assistance.

Vocational courses take from five to 12 months to as much as three years to complete. Vocational training schools usually have open admissions, which means they will admit all students interested in attending.

For more information about the options available to you after high school:

  • Search the Internet. Most educational institutions have websites that will provide you with specific information about the institution.
  • Talk to a high school counselor. He or she will have guidebooks and literature on schools, admission requirements, and financial aid.

For more information about the costs associated with each type of institution, refer to AIE's "The Cost of College" page.


Here are other documents located on AIE.org that you may be interested in: