Types of Colleges: Guide To Higher Education

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When you begin applying for colleges, you’ll come across many different kinds of universities – some may be your state’s public university system and others might be private colleges out of stateColleges are broken down into three main types: publicprivate, and community colleges. This article helps explain the differences between the three types.  

Public Universities

By definition, public universities are funded by the state government, and their purpose is to give a state’s residents the opportunity to attend college at a relatively affordable cost.  


  • Public universities offer a wide range of majors, and often have a large student body 
  • Most public universities are also part of a state university system where different campuses are built in the different major cities of a state 
    • The University of Texas system is one such example – the flagship campus is in Austin, but there are campuses in Dallas, Arlington, San Antonio, and 4 other cities in Texas 
  • Usually have higher acceptance rates (because they’re not as selective as most private universities) 
  • Demographics usually represent the state’s demographics, and will have a lower rate of international and outofstate students 
  • May have large classes and restricted access to professors  
  • Tuition and overall cost are lower than that of private universities (averaging around $20-30,000 a year) 
  • Tuition is usually lower for in-state students for their state’s public universities  

Private Universities

Private universities rely on high tuition and donations for funding. They often have long histories and are highly competitive.  


  • Private universities are usually much smaller in size (may only have a few thousand students) 
  • Lower acceptance rates  
  • Very high tuition and yearly costs (but most offer need based financial aid) 
  • May specialize in certain studies such as Liberal Arts or Engineering
    • Harvard University is best known for its selection of Social Sciences majors 
  • Have smaller classes and easier access to professors and other connections 
  • Usually are very well known by most people so the university name carries weight 
  • More diversified demographics since students come from all over the world

Community Colleges

Community colleges usually offer Associate’s degrees, or AA (earned in 2 years of study), and students can transfer those credits to finish a Bachelor’s (BS) at another university, or they can keep their Associate’s degree. A lot of community colleges also develop a system with local high schools to offer dual credit courses that can also be transferred.  


  • Much lower tuition cost than compared to a public or private university (about $3-4,000) 
  • Offer more flexibility for: 
    • Students wanting to explore majors without the burden of regular university costs
    • Students needing a flexible schedule (easier to commute or attend night classes)
    • Students unable to immediately afford costs of a four-year program  
  • Very high acceptance rate, with a general open admission policy 
  • Can transfer to a four-year university for BS degree after earning general requirements  
  • May be easier to transfer to a public in-state university compared to out-of-state universities 
  • Smaller class size with easier access to professors
  • Usually doesn’t offer a traditional college setting

How to Choose

When choosing which kind of colleges to apply to, first decide if you want to go the community college route or not. Once you’ve made that decision, take into account factors such as:

  • Programs of study
  • Tuition and residence costs
  • Distance from home (if it matters to you)
  • Potential financial aid and/or scholarships 
  • What kind of a setting you’re aiming for  

You don’t have to apply to one of type of university versus the other! It’s recommended to apply to reach colleges, colleges you’re likely to get into, and backup colleges, and this may include a mix of private and public universities. This is a good plan to follow because you will have the ability to determine your decision based on the different acceptances and financial aid packages you get, without having to make the decision upfront and limit yourself to the type of university.  

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