JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

Types of Colleges

Not all colleges are the same. Some are focused entirely on teaching a trade (technical and vocational colleges) and others require students to take courses related to their major, plus math, science, literature, etc. (community colleges and four-year colleges). The profession chosen may help make the decision about the right college.  Students not sure about what profession to pursue can check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook.  The College Criteria List can help determine which college to attend.

Community College

Students with a high school diploma or the equivalent can attend a community college or junior college.  These two-year public colleges can help students further their education, prepare them for a four-year college or allow them to focus on a particular trade for a specific job. Community colleges award certificates in a specific area of study or an associate’s degree at the completion of a two-year program. Students may want to consider completing required general courses at a community college and then transferring those credits to a four-year college to finish their degree.

Technical and Vocational College

Technical and vocational colleges prepare students for a specific trade, job or career. Generally, these colleges offer two-year programs, though some offer three- and four-year programs, as well. Likewise, most award a license, certificate or associate’s degrees; while some may award a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges may also offer technical and vocational courses. There are many different programs offered at technical and vocational colleges. Students should be encouraged to find out which ones offer the courses that interest them.

Four Year College

Four-year colleges provide a broad range of classes and educational experiences, along with in-depth courses specific to a major or minor (a degree’s primary or secondary area of concentration). These institutions generally offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees, and prepare students for a career. Common fields of study include business, communications, economics, engineering, English literature, science, history, political science, foreign language and more. A degree from a four-year college may also allow students to do advanced studies  to earn a master’s or doctoral degree; or to later specialize in medicine, law, architecture, social work, etc. Four-year colleges may be public or private and are generally more expensive than communitytechnical and vocational colleges.

Public or Private College

When choosing a college, a student will have to decide between public or private institutions. State and community colleges, also known as public colleges, are generally less expensive than private colleges. Public colleges receive funding from their respective states in order to make the cost of education affordable to the greatest number of people. Most states offer in-state residents a significantly lower tuition price, than is offered to residents of other states. At community colleges, the tuition rate is based on the community college district in which the student lives; residents can take courses for a lower price than students who live out of the district.

Private colleges, on the other hand, do not receive the same type of funding, so they rely more heavily on tuition, endowments and other private sources of revenue. Private colleges are usually more expensive than public colleges, but may offer smaller class sizes, or additional scholarships and grants that are not available at public schools.

College or University

Although people generally use the terms college and university interchangeably, there is a difference in their actual meaning. While colleges are typically smaller than universities, size alone does not determine under which category a schools fits.

A college offers a particular type of degree, a Bachelor of Arts, for example. A university offers multiple degrees, undergraduate and graduate, and divides their programs of study into different schools, called colleges. For example, a university may have a College of Liberal Arts and Science and a Graduate School of Education, or a School of Business, among others. Students need to select the college that is right based on their area of study and future plans.