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Types of US Universities

Dreaming about college life in the United States is a great incentive to high school students as they imagine their next steps. However, navigating through the almost 5,000 American higher education institutions is not an easy task.


Most students are not aware of the difference between the types of institutions: Public, Private Universities and Colleges, and Community Colleges. To help you advise your students, we bring this short information guide.




Universities x Colleges:

These terms are interchangeable to talk about higher education institutions. Both can refer to four-year institutions but traditionally, colleges were those that did not offer Master’s and Doctor’s degrees. Nowadays, many institutions keep their traditional names even though they now offer such programs.


Public Universities/Colleges:

Four-year institutions that are in state ownership or receive significant public funds through a government. They are usually larger institutions and charge lower tuition rates than private institutions. They also have different tuition rates for residents of the state and out-of-state residents.


Private Universities/Colleges:

Four-year institutions that are usually not operated by governments and may be for-profit. Usually have higher tuition rates than public institutions, but usually offer more significant financial aid to international students.


Community Colleges:

Two-year institutions that offer Associate’s Degrees that may be public or private, both usually having lower tuition rates than any four-year institution. They allow for a transfer to public and private four-year institutions and are great pathways for students with lower English proficiency and grades.




In regards to prestige, there is not a direct correlation between the type of institution and academic excellence.


If you would like to have more information about the application process to American higher education institutions, reach out to CAP – College Advising Program.

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