As you go through high school, many people will ask you, “What’s your plan after graduation?” You may not know for sure yet, but I hope to help make the decision easier for you. If you intend to further your education after high school, the first crucial thing to know is what types of institutions you can attend. Here I’ve summarized different types of colleges, universities, and schools so you can get a better understanding of what options you have after high school.
Community colleges are institutions that offer general education classes that satisfy requirements for an associate degree or a transfer to another university. This route is much cheaper than attending a four-year university, so many students choose to attend community college for two years then transfer to a four-year school for the last two years of their education. For any major at a university, there are certain general education classes that must be completed in order to take classes that pertain more to your major—the ones that are required to complete your bachelor’s degree. Community colleges offer gen eds for less money, and there are usually fewer people per class. That means you’ll usually have a better student-faculty ratio for close academic support.
For example, at University of California–Los Angeles, some general education classes have more than 100 people per class. With this type of student-faculty ratio, you may not develop close relationships with your professors, and most of your learning will rely on teaching assistants. However, at most community colleges, the average student-faculty ratio is around 18:1. With smaller class sizes, you can ask more questions freely and develop better connections. Usually, general education classes take about two years to complete, in which you can graduate with an associate degree. After, if you choose, you can transfer to a four-year university and take more specialized classes pertaining to a bachelor’s program. You’ll receive your degree from that university after you complete the remaining requirements.
There are cons to community college, however. For starters, you may have to live with your parents for a little longer, as many two-year schools don’t offer housing. Though it could also save you money, this situation isn’t ideal for some high school students. Secondly, you may not find as stimulating of an environment in community college classes, as community college tends to require more self-direction in your schedule, as you’ll find at many four-year universities, where most students are passionate about their majors and will show it through intellectual discussion. At community colleges, there also aren’t as many ways to get involved on campus, whereas at a four-year university, there are countless ways to get involved in student life.
Also known as technical or vocational school, trade school is another option that takes less time and costs significantly less than a four-year college or university. This educational path is a great choice for students who want to learn skills for certain jobs like electrician, mechanic, plumber, dental hygienist, and more. A trade school’s curriculum is more streamlined and less general than those at community colleges, as it prepares students for specific careers with practical courses and hands-on training through apprenticeships. If you don’t plan to transfer to a four-year college and are more interested in diving right into the working world after completing your program, trade school could be the right choice for you.
Public four-year colleges and universities
This is pretty straightforward: For public colleges, you apply right out of high school and pick your classes accordingly, usually declaring a major by the end of the second year. Universities are diverse, offer a variety of classes, have an enthralling campus life, and offer a competitive, stimulating environment. An example of a four-year public university is UCLA. However, universities in the University of California system and other public colleges often only offer need-based financial aid, so unless you qualify for that type of aid, these types of universities are definitely more expensive than community college or trade school. Additionally, you’ll need to pay for room and board for at least your first year, then find a place to live yourself if you don’t want to stay on campus all four years. At universities, there are also both undergraduate and graduate programs; anyone fresh from high school or in their mid-20s or older may be in your classes or on campus. Such a diverse group of people may be beneficial to your education. Obviously, price may be a con to some families. It’s something you’ll have to weigh yourself: saving money or opening yourself upto more opportunities. How beneficial will saving money be to your future? Will more opportunities be more beneficial?
Private four-year colleges and universities
Private universities are very similar to public schools—except for the cost. Average UC tuition is about $30,000, whereas University of Southern California—a private college in Los Angeles—is about $60,000. Obviously these numbers will mean different things based on your family’s income and FAFSA. However, it’s safe to say that private schools are generally the more expensive option, though many offer substantial institutional scholarships to help lower the “sticker price.” Compared to public universities, private universities usually offer fewer research opportunities to students—but they still offer more opportunities than community colleges tend to. Some private universities are also religious, so this may be advantageous if you’d like your religion to play a role in your education. For example, Baylor University requires students to take classes pertaining to Christianity. And while they won’t force you to believe in Christ, these classes are a requirement. Again, this may be a pro or con depending on who you are. If you’re religious and would prefer to be around like-minded people, a private, church-affiliated university may be perfect for you. And if you’re not religious but don’t mind taking religion classes and learning something new, private universities are definitely an option worth considering. Keep in mind that you should make sure a school meets as many of your needs as possible—don’t attend a school just for its religious affiliations or campus life. It should offer you great opportunities but also an environment you will thrive in.
Universities vs. colleges
In your search process, you may wonder what the difference is between a four-year “university” and a four-year “college.” Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not quite the same. A university typically offers more programs and has graduate students, whereas a college usually only focuses on undergraduate education. This often means colleges have a less diverse student crowd (in terms of age and interests) and are smaller—but the term “college” doesn’t mean a community college. There are two-year community colleges and four-year public and private colleges. For example, Boston College isn’t a community college, yet it doesn’t have graduate students and is a four-year school.
Whatever way you choose to pursue your higher education should make you content, but it should also be feasible to attain in terms of opportunity and financial need. Remember, scholarships are always important to consider in high school and throughout your educational journey as they can help you pay for a more expensive school. In the end, whatever decision you make should (and will) be the right one for you!
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