Knowledge is power. You’ve probably heard that a million times, right? The more you know, the further you go. If you’re a high school student, maybe you always knew that your education wouldn’t end at high school. If you’re a parent, maybe you always assumed your child would go to college.
But even if those two things are true, there’s a lot to learn and a lot to decide after high school. Deciding where to go, what to study, how to pay for it… it can be overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are loads of resources to help. High school teachers and counselors. College admissions advisors. There’s also a host of valuable information online, from individual college and university websites to broader resources. The College Board, the folks who bring you the SAT and PSAT, have compiled a wealth of information and resources at BigFuture.org. The site offers a roadmap to finding a college and paying for it, and provides a host of tips, guides and videos about the process. Students can even get a free step-by-step college plan, tailored to their current grade level.
A good first step is to understand all the types of colleges and college programs to choose from.
Sorting out colleges
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 the types of colleges.
Public and private colleges
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.
These are businesses that offer a variety of degree programs which 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 and two-year colleges
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 and lead to a certificate or an associate degree. These include community colleges, vocational-technical colleges and career colleges.
Liberal arts colleges
These 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 often are larger and offer more majors and degree options—bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees—than colleges. 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.
Technical and career colleges
Technical and career colleges 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.
Colleges with a special focus
Some colleges focus on a specific interest or student population. These include:
Religiously affiliated colleges