Types of Colleges: Explore All Your Education Options

By Patricia Gorden Neill - February 26th, 2013

When you first start to look at colleges, it can seem overwhelming as colleges come in all sizes, locations and types. If you are looking for a very specific type of academic major, say, ecogastronomy, it could well be that only three or four colleges will offer that major and your college choice problem is nearly solved. However, most high school students begin their college search by looking at colleges that are ranked high for the major they’re interested in or for its location or its sports program or its scholarships or financial aid packages. Whether you know what you want to study in college, it can help to narrow down your choices by imagining how you would fit into a particular college’s student body.

To find a college that fits your academic goals and your personality, think about the following variations among colleges.

Academics

If you have an idea of what you’d like to study or have a few majors you think you’d like, then look at the academic ranking of both the college overall and the degree program you’re considering in particular. Not that college rankings are everything, they’re not. College, as you’ll find out, is what you put into it, both academically and socially. Where will you fit in academically in the college of your choice, the top 25 percent according to SAT scores or the middle 50 percent? Take a look at other programs the school might offer such as study abroad or internships to see if those interest you.

Size

You can’t wait to get out of the fishbowl of your high school and into a big state school where you can meld in with everyone else? You enjoy your teacher’s personal attention and perform best as a student when you have it. You would like to know your teacher’s name and have them know yours, but you don’t want a tiny school either.

Here are some college sizes to consider:

Small means less than 5,000 undergraduates, medium colleges have 5,000 to 10,000 undergraduates, large universities have 10,000 to 20,000 students and very large have over 20,000 in their undergraduate student bodies. You’ll be happiest if you can find a school where you feel comfortable. If you like small town life, for example, you might not like being one of 20,000 anonymous students on a huge sprawling campus.

Location

Colleges and universities exist in all environments, from huge cities to suburbia to small town to downright rural. They’re in all parts of the country, in the mountains, on the coasts and out in the middle of nowhere, so to speak. Consider this: how far away from home do you want to be? Close enough to visit home often? Or would you like to be far enough away that you can only go home for the long vacations. Or do you want to live at home and commute to school? Will the weather bother you if it is extremely cold as it is in northern Maine or extremely hot and humid as it can be in New Orleans? Think about these things when you’re making your list of colleges.

Financial Aid

A major factor in choosing a college is how much you can afford to spend on your higher education. Take a look at the different types of colleges, such as public or private, liberal arts or career oriented, then consider the financial aid packages the various schools might offer. For example, while private colleges are usually much more expensive than public schools, some of them offer very attractive scholarships and financial aid to students meeting a specific requirement. Some colleges offer grants and work-study programs.

College admissions’ Web pages now offer a net price calculator that can estimate your annual bill. For each school you’re interested in, figure out what it would cost you and your parents. Then discuss with your parents how that cost can be handled, whether it is through college savings programs, financial aid, scholarships or student loans.

Types of Colleges

Colleges also come in various types or styles such as public or private or for profit or community college. Each style of college has its strengths and offers different educational experiences. What matters most is for you to find the type of college that suits you best, where you can be comfortable and where you can shine academically.

University: An institute of higher education offering a variety of degrees including bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate.

Private: A college or university funded by tuition, fees and private donations.

Public: College funded partially by governments at any level. You’ll still pay tuition, but because the state gives money to the college, the tuition will be lower if you live in that state. Tuitions at public schools can be significantly lower than at private colleges. Some state schools can be huge, but they also offer a host of amenities such as sports programs.

Community college: Provides two year associate degree programs and a variety of specialty career training and certification programs.

For Profit: These are businesses that provide academic degree programs providing specialized and career training. They attract older working students looking to further their careers with education. If the school is fully accredited, then the education provided here is just as good as that at non-proprietary schools. These schools may be more expensive.

Liberal Arts College: Offers four year degree program in the liberal arts, including literature, languages, history, mathematics and science. They usually do not offer any of the technical majors such as architecture or engineering.

Online college: Offers online classes only. Note that some predominantly online colleges now have campuses throughout the U.S. where students can opt to take on campus classes. Most online schools, however, have no brick-and-mortar presence.

Specialty Colleges: These include the Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU), Hispanic and Native American colleges, faith-based colleges, arts colleges, same sex colleges and vocational-technical and career colleges.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.