10+ Types of Colleges and the Admission Requirements by College Type

Choosing among the types of colleges can be tough, but this guide walks you through them as well as their admission requirements.

Sometimes wanting a higher education can be overwhelming.

Between choosing the right college for you, filling out applications, taking required standardized tests, financial aid processes, and more, there are so many steps to consider.

Whether you are still in high school applying to college, or you are an adult enrolling into an undergraduate institution for the first time, the college admissions process can be a lot.

Are you thinking about enrolling in college

Continue reading for the ultimate guide to the different types of colleges, their descriptions, and admission requirements. 


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College vs. University: What is The Difference?

Let’s start with the age-old question… “What’s the difference between a college and a university?

When they were first established, colleges were small, usually private schools that only offered undergraduate programs. During this time, universities were large schools that offered all programs including undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral. 

In a general comparison to universities, colleges are usually smaller.

Traditional colleges offer associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or specific certificates. The amount of courses they offer is limited, and their programs can take anywhere from 2-4 years for you to complete.

Traditional universities offer certificates, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees (or other graduate degrees), and doctoral degrees (or other postgraduate degrees). They offer a large number of courses and feature impressive sports and research facilities.

Universities are usually made up of different schools or colleges, and academic departments.

For example, if you decide to attend Howard University, you have an option to choose your major field of study.

Let’s say you choose to major in Contemporary Dance. This would make you a student of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University.

Howard University would be providing your degree and tools to facilitate your learning, but your major courses would be held at your specific college. 

Now, traditionally, colleges usually are smaller than universities, but this is not always the case.

With time, the terms college and university have become almost synonymous. This is due to many colleges becoming four-year institutions. They have begun offering graduate and postgraduate degrees as well. 

People today consider any four-year institution either a college or university. Either of these options can provide you with the same undergraduate degree.

Related Read: 50+ Best Education Quotes & Inspirational Sayings About Learning

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Institutions

You can separate colleges and universities into two categories: 4-year and 2-year institutions.

Both 4-year and 2-year institutions can offer you similar experiences, but there are a few differences in these types of colleges.

Two-year schools are often known as continuing education. You usually cannot obtain any degree higher than certificates or an associate’s degree at a 2-year institution.

The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in New York City is a great example.

You can choose to enroll in a 2-year institution if you want to achieve an associate’s degree before you enroll in a 4-year institution to complete your field of study for a bachelor’s degree. 

Two-year colleges can still offer you many benefits. They can often provide you with training specific to a job you want as well as a career after graduation. This option can also help you cut down on how much you pay for your education. 

Four-year schools are known as the most common higher education institutions. Completing a full 4-year college transcript will grant you a bachelor’s degree. 

Pennsylvania State University is an example of a 4-year institution.

Four-year colleges have their own benefits too. They are usually very invested in all activities including sports programs, extracurricular clubs, student-run organizations, student leadership, fraternities, sororities, and so much more. 

While they are very different, you can gain an adequate education at either of these institutes. Make the decision that best fits your needs.

Let’s take a look at the specific types of colleges, both 4-year and 2-year, to help you make the best decision.

What Are the Different Types of Four-Year Colleges?

Public Colleges 

Public colleges and universities are typically owned and operated by the Board of Education in its home state location.

Funding for a public undergraduate institution can come from student tuition, fees, taxes (both state and federal), and private donors. The University of Maryland is a great example of a public college.

Private Colleges

Private institutions are traditionally owned and operated by a group of individuals or an organization. They are not under any form of state-led operation, therefore, they usually do not receive federal or state funding.

Private institution funding is mostly in the form of large donations from corporation, alumni, and individuals. Although they are not operated by their home state, they must still meet all of the state and federal requirements necessary to be considered an accredited academic institution.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal arts colleges specifically focus on any field of study pertaining to the liberal arts. This includes social sciences, humanities, math, and physical sciences.

They are usually more small, intimate schools than your typical 4-year college. 

Related Read: How to Pay for College: Ways to Afford University w/o Expensive Loans

What Are the Different Types of Two-Year Colleges? 

Community Colleges

Community colleges are the most common type of 2-year institution. They only offer diplomas, certificates, and associate’s degrees. Many community colleges have begun offering limited bachelor’s degree programs.

Community colleges are often referred to as junior colleges, technical colleges, or city colleges.

These schools can offer you a career-specific education, hands-on industry training, and help with transitioning into a 4-year college.

Trade Schools

Trade schools are traditionally known as vocational schools or technical colleges. They can provide you with the technical skills you will need for a specific career path. Trade school programs are great for students who would like to enter the workforce directly upon their graduation.

Most students attend trade school to study dental hygiene, electric work, plumbing, computer technology, and more. 

For-Profit Schools

For-profit colleges are similar to a private 4-year college. This is only because they are privately owned and operated.

For-profit schools can sometimes provide you with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or even trade learning. These programs are usually offered via online learning strategies.

Other Types of Colleges and Universities

Now that you are familiar with the traditional types of colleges, let’s take a look into some other options. There are various other types of special colleges and universities that you can attend. 

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, are educational institutions that were founded with the intention of providing opportunities for higher education to Black students.

They were founded prior to the Civil Rights Act due to the lack of acceptance of Black students in undergraduate and graduate academia. There are currently 101 HBCUs in the United States, both private and public.

You can gain certificates, undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate degrees from these schools.

Although they were created for Black students, HBCUs admit students of all ethnicities. 

Women’s Colleges

Women’s colleges are educational institutions that were founded to provide education for women only. They do not allow male students to enroll.

Traditionally, they were only designed to prepare women for roles in society, such as teaching or caretaking. Since the outbreak of World War II, they have evolved into higher education institutions that grant degrees.

Tribal Colleges and Universities

Tribal Colleges and Universities are few and far between. There are only 32 accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities in the United States. 

TCUs are operated by Native American tribes and are usually located on or near their reservations. They were created to provide higher education to both Native and non-Native students.

Their curriculum is often designed to pass down Native tribal history and culture.

These institutions are accredited and can provide you with undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate degrees, and vocational training. 

Related Read: What is a College Minor? An Introduction & How to Declare a Minor at Uni

Do You Feel Confident About The Different College Types?

Choosing the perfect college or university for you is an important decision. You should not rush the process.

As you have read, there are many types of colleges and universities, and one of them is bound to be your perfect match.

Here’s a pro tip: when you have decided on the type of college or university you want to attend, try to set up a few campus tours or an admissions info session. This way you can get a real feel for the school and see if it truly fits your search criteria.

If you are still not confident in the types of colleges you should choose from, don’t be worried. For 7 things to consider when choosing your perfect match, click here.

Now go out and get that higher education!

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Goodwall Team
Written By Goodwall Team
This article was written by the Goodwall team or by a contributor for publication on Goodwall. Goodwall is dedicated to helping students, entrepreneurs, and young professionals reach their full potential. We'll share thought-provoking and supportive articles on career advice, self-improvement, navigating the college landscape, climate action, social impact, and more. On the business side, we'll talk about SMB subjects related to community, diversity, talent acquisition, case studies, and enterprise.

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