Every Kind of College and University Defined

types of colleges

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As you explore colleges, you will learn about different types of colleges or universities. Public or private is a way colleges define themselves. Two-year or four-year colleges are also types of colleges. However, there are other terms colleges will use to define their institution. The types of colleges (or universities) are unique and offers great advantages to their students.

Below are some of the different types of colleges and universities you will learn about as you research colleges.

Public colleges vs. Private colleges

Local and state governments fund public colleges and universities. They typically offer lower tuition rates to in-state residents. Out-of-state students also attend public institutions but have higher tuition rates. There are two-year colleges, otherwise known as community colleges, and four-year public universities.

Every state in the U.S. has at least one public college or university within its borders.

Tuition, fees, and other private sources fund private colleges and universities. Most private institutions have higher “sticker” prices than public institutions, although they also often offer significant discounts for almost all students. Student populations at private colleges and universities vary from a few hundred students to over 30,000.

Colleges vs. Universities

People consider four-year institutions as a college or university. Both colleges and universities confer the same type of baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree.

Colleges usually are smaller than universities, but this is not always the case.

Universities often offer masters and doctoral degrees, in addition to bachelor’s degrees. Some large universities might have divisions within the university called colleges. For example, a university might have a College of Liberal Arts or College of Science.

Community colleges

Community colleges are primarily two-year public institutions that confer certificates, diplomas, and associate’s degrees. Some states have started to offer a small number of bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges. People sometimes call community colleges as junior colleges, technical colleges, or city colleges.

In addition to conferring associate degrees, community colleges usually provide career education, industry training, and preparation for transferring to a four-year institution.

Liberal arts colleges

Liberal arts colleges have an emphasis on undergraduate studies in the liberal arts and sciences. They aim to provide an overview of the arts, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences.

These colleges allow students to explore different disciplines rather than following a strict academic schedule in preparation for a specific career path. Most liberal arts colleges are private institutions. However, there are some public liberal arts schools, including Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Sonoma State University in California.

Liberal arts colleges are not “art schools”, and most liberal arts colleges offer many of the same science or mathematics studies as research universities.

Research universities

Research universities tend to be larger institutions and focus on research.

These universities have many baccalaureate programs and commit to graduate education through the doctorate. Many professors at research universities conduct research, in addition, to teach within their discipline. There may be research opportunities for undergraduate students, but graduate and doctoral degree students conduct much of the research on campus.

Just as liberal arts colleges are not strictly art-focused, most large research universities also offer programs in arts, humanities or other subjects. Research universities just tend to be known mostly for their science and research.

Art colleges

Art colleges focus on the arts. In addition to general education courses, art colleges provide training in arts such as graphic design, illustration, painting, photography, and sculpture.

Many art colleges offer associate degrees or bachelor of fine arts (BFA). The majority of art schools in the United States are private. Massachusetts College of Art and Design is the only publicly-funded art school in the country.

While art colleges may be a good fit for some students, many kinds of institutions offer similar BFA programs, so art majors are not forced to only attend these specialized institutions.

Religious colleges

Religiously affiliated colleges are connected to religious faith. All religiously affiliated colleges are private institutions.

Some of the connections are historic in nature, while others incorporate faith in everyday student life. Some of the colleges do not require students to share the faith of the college, while others require a statement of faith during the application process.

Single-sex colleges

Single-sex institutions only admit students of one sex.

The majority of institutions of higher education are coed. However, there are only a small number of single-sex institutions in the U.S. The majority of men’s colleges are seminaries preparing men for religious service.

However, there are a few men’s colleges. Consider traditional colleges such as Morehouse College in Georgia and Saint John’s University in Minnesota. The majority of women’s colleges are liberal arts schools.

Specialized and mission-driven colleges

Specialized mission colleges focus on educating specific groups of students. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were established before 1964 with the purpose of serving the black community.

HBCUs now admit students of all races, but many still have an African American majority.

Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) have at least 25% of their undergraduate student population identifying as Hispanic. HBCUs and HSCI offer activities, programs, and services targeted to the underrepresented students they enroll.

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