The Different School Types of Higher Education

Is a college the same thing as a university? What does "liberal arts" mean? Why are some colleges called public and others private? Here are the basics on every type of college.

Public colleges are funded by local and state governments and usually offer lower tuition rates than private colleges - especially for students who are residents of the state where a college is located.

Private colleges rely mainly on tuition, fees, and private sources of funding. Private donations can sometimes provide generous financial aid packages for students.

For-profit colleges are businesses that offer a variety of degree programs that typically prepare students for a specific career. They tend to have higher costs, which could mean graduating with more debt. Credits earned may not transfer to other colleges, so be sure to check with the admission office at each college.

Four-year colleges offer four-year programs that lead to a bachelor's degree. These include universities and liberal arts colleges.

Two-year colleges offer programs that last up to two years that lead to a certificate or an associate degree. These include community colleges, vocational schools (also known as trade schools), and career colleges.

Liberal arts colleges offer a broad base of courses in the liberal arts, which includes areas such as literature, history, languages, mathematics and life sciences. Most are private and offer four-year programs that lead to a bachelor's degree. These colleges can prepare you for a variety of careers or for graduate study.

Universities are often larger than most typical colleges and offer more majors and degree options, such as bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Most universities contain several smaller colleges, such as colleges of liberal arts, engineering, or health sciences. These colleges can prepare you for a variety of careers or for graduate study.

Community colleges offer two-year associate degrees that prepare you to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor's degree. They also offer other associate degrees and certificates that focus on preparing you for a certain career. Community colleges are often an affordable option with relatively low tuition.

Vocational schools, also known as trade schools, offer specialized training in a particular industry or career. Possible programs of study include the culinary arts, firefighting, dental hygiene, and medical-records technology. These colleges usually offer certificates or associate degrees.