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TYPES OF SCHOOLS

Public institutions are state supported. Private for-profit institutions are businesses. Private not-for-profit institutions are independent — for instance, the school might have been established by a church or through local community donations rather than by the state government.

Four-year institutions offer bachelor’s degrees, and some offer advanced degrees. Two-year institutions offer associate's degrees. Less-than-two-year institutions offer training and award certificates of completion.

Use the U.S. Department of Education’s search tool to find information about schools in all these categories.
Here’s a more detailed description of the kinds of schools you might hear about as you plan for your post-high-school education:

  • College – A four-year college grants bachelor’s degrees (Bachelor of Arts; Bachelor of Science). Some colleges also award master’s degrees.
  • University – A university grants bachelor's and master's degrees, and sometimes includes a professional school such as a law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges, focus more on scholarly or scientific research, and might have larger class sizes.
  • Community college – A public two-year college granting associate’s degrees and sometimes certificates in particular technical (career-related) subjects. Some students start their postsecondary education at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school, either because a community college tends to be cheaper than a four-year college, or because admissions standards at community colleges are often less stringent than at four-year schools.
  • Junior college – Similar to a community college, except that a junior college is usually a private school.
  • Career school, technical school, or vocational/trade school – These terms are often used interchangeably. May be public or private, two-year or less-than-two-year. Career schools offer courses that are designed to prepare students for specific careers, from welding to cosmetology to medical imaging, etc. The difference between technical schools and trade schools is that technical schools teach the science behind the occupation, while trade schools focus on hands-on application of skills needed to do the job.

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