Understanding the Different Types of US Universities and Colleges

by neville

We are getting closer to you selecting the perfect US University, but we are not quite there yet. First let’s figure out which type of US University best caters to your needs, wants, and desires.

In the US all universities are not created equally. The education system here might be a little more complex than you are used to at home. So take some time to understand the different types of US universities and colleges. This will help you narrow down the list of universities to choose from, and more importantly help you find that perfect match.

There are over 10,000 colleges, universities, and tertiary institutions in the United States of varying size and reputations. Many of them are affiliated with the higher education systems of the particular state in which they operate. Most are private, for profit institutions. All are required to be accredited in order that the degrees they offer will be recognized.

Before we dive into the different types US universities and colleges let’s clear up a couple terms:

  • Accreditation – Accredited schools are properly sanctioned by an independent body who vouch for their academic, financial, and overall integrity.
  • Colleges vs. Universities – The term “college” is a general term. It typically refers to two-year institution that offers associates degrees. However, it is also a short form for “liberal arts college”—essentially universities that offer undergraduate degrees.

Types of Schools

  • Private Research Institutions – grant degrees up to the doctorate. If you are looking for post-graduate study, particularly at the doctoral level, this is the type of institution to consider.
  • Comprehensive Schools – these are largely operated by states with geographical designations (for example, East Tennessee State University). These schools typically focus on undergraduate education with limited offerings at the master’s level. Often, these offer great value and work best for budget conscious students.
  • Liberal Arts Colleges – these focus on strong undergraduate education operated by both the state and private systems. Many of these schools, like Vassar, offer elite education, but the private ones tend to be very costly.
  • Community/Junior Colleges – these largely focus on the first two years of post secondary education and grant associate’s degrees. Often, they are utilized as stepping stones to the universities, but they do offer worthwhile stand alone programs. The larger ones, like Miami Dade College, tend to attract a lot of foreign students who cannot matriculate to American universities directly.
  • Training Colleges – these are largely for profit niche institutions that typically cater to non-traditional education or retraining. Many offer distance and on-line programs designed for working professionals. However, most of these cannot legally accept international students, and those that can, tend to be specialty schools with a high tuition tag.

As you go through the selection process and evaluate various US universities keep the above definitions in mind.  Hopefully just from the above you now know which category of school to focus on.

You should now read “Are Smaller State Univeristies Your Best Option?” to learn about the differences between the so called “Brand Name” Universities and the lesser known, but significant, State Universities.

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