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What Kind of College Is Right for You?

There are so many different classifications of colleges. Here's a brief overview of what those are and some example colleges in each category. Take a look!

I was talking to a few of my close friends the other day about our classes, majors, schools, etc. It was then that I realized the amazing majors that are taught at varying schools throughout the country. Some of my friends’ majors ranged from international relations and marketing to environmental studies and musical studies, and everyone goes to different types of schools—some of my friends go to community colleges while others go to large state schools. I thought I’d discuss the different types of schools available, and how it’s especially important for the rising seniors to get informed on the different types of higher education institutions and to explore as many options as possible.

State universities

State universities are often larger four-year schools, and every state has it's own system. For example, the State Universities of New York (SUNY) system has several campus locations across the state. The majority of students at these schools are in-state students, but many come from out of state and internationally as well. The schools are public, and thus receive federal funding. At larger schools like these, students usually have more majors to choose from; the largest state school, Arizona State University, has majors ranging from technology and innovation to journalism or business. Some other especially large state universities include:

Private schools

A private college or university is one that is privately funded (versus receiving funding by the government at state schools). There’s a broad range of sub-categories within the private college realm, including liberal arts colleges, fine arts colleges (including conservatory schools), medical schools, technology schools, and much more. Sometimes, these schools will have an affiliation with a religious sector, or even a single gender. These schools are typically more expensive since they don’t have state funding—and students don’t have the option for in-state tuition—but they generally provide lots of financial aid. Just as at a state university, students receive a solid education. Some private schools include:

Related: Private vs. Public: Which Is Right for You?


Conservatory schools are typically small, four-year schools for students who are devoted to pursuing a major in the arts—usually music, dance, theater, etc. The conservatory-type schools are perfect for prospective students who are positive they want to major in this field. Students are able to gain amazing experience within their major and work extremely close with their professors and peers. However, not all conservatory schools put as much focus on a liberal arts education like some other types of schools, which means that students may not get the opportunity to take general education classes in various subjects, including philosophy, history, mathematics, biology, etc. (similar to the standard classes you may take in high school). A few schools also have a conservatory as one of their divisions. Some conservatories in the United States include:

Trade schools

Trade schools are similar to conservatories in that they provide a focused education in one particular area without the other general education requirements found at public and private institutions. But instead of solely the arts, trade schools educate in such areas as cosmetology, technical studies, computer design, or culinary studies. These can vary between for-profit and nonprofit schools, online or in-person classes, and can have a range of time commitments: some programs are just one year, while others can be four years. Here are some examples:

Community colleges

Community colleges are primarily two-year public institutions that receive state funding. For many people looking for the college experience, but for whatever reason aren't ready or interested in a four-year institution, community colleges are a perfect option. They are a lot less expensive than most four-year schools and are often located close to your home. Many students who attend community colleges wind up transferring to other schools—I even know someone who went to a community school for two years then attended an Ivy League school. It can be a great gateway for many students! Community colleges provide classes towards your future major to help you transition into the field. Here are a few examples:

Related: Top 10 Reasons to Study at a Community College

Regardless of your preference, finding the right college for you is all about what feels right. If the community college to four-year university path is right for you, go for it. If a small, private liberal arts college fits the bill, chase those dreams. There are a lot of great colleges out there, but there are a smaller handful that are specifically great for you. Hopefully this helps you get a little closer to figuring out which colleges those are!

Use this advice to guide you in finding the best-fit college for you—you can search for them using our College Search tool.

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About Maria Martinolich

Maria Martinolich

Maria Martinolich is a student in the College of Communication at Boston University, majoring in Broadcast Journalism with a concentration in History. She's heavily involved with BU’s TV station (BUTV10), radio station (WTBU), and Greek life and was also a Fox News intern. Maria is originally from Long Island, New York, and although she’s a Yankee fan, she loves being in Boston! She hopes to be a news anchor or the next Bob Costas and cover the Olympics someday.

Being of Greek, Croatian, and Polish descent, Maria has a lot of diversity in herself and loves learning about new cultures, organizations, ethnicities, causes, and people. Because she grew up appreciating all kinds of diversity—and also attends such a diverse university—she's extremely excited about writing for the College Diversity section of CollegeXpress!


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