Types of Colleges and Universities in the U.S.

1. Public School

Most public colleges in the U.S. are funded and operated by state governments. Public universities generally have less control over setting admissions policies, since they are operated by state governments. Each state has at least one university system where policies are set at the State level.

Tuition and fees at public colleges are typically less than private colleges because they are subsidized by the government. States generally charge higher fees to students who are not considered to be residents (called out-of-state students).


Many public universities are home to state-of-the-art medical, agricultural and science centers. State funding gives many public colleges the money they need to develop large facilities and projects that benefit not only the state, but students and professors as well.

If you attend a public college in your state of residence, you will likely benefit from a lower education price tag than a private college. Just remember, public colleges generally have higher enrollment and more students per professor, so your classes are less likely to be small and personalized.

2. Private School

A private university is an institution that relies on private funding and tuition to maintain operations, instead of government funding. Private universities have significantly more control over setting admission policies than public colleges, but they still cannot discriminate in their admission practices.

Private colleges in the U.S. are generally operated as non-profit education or research institutions. The tuition and fees for private colleges are generally higher than that of public colleges, but financial aid is offered by many schools. Many private universities in the U.S. are either affiliated with or operated by religious institutions.


Although private colleges are often criticized for their high price tags, there are many benefits to attending a private university. Private colleges are generally smaller in size than their public counterparts, and therefore a student can benefit from smaller class sizes and more personalized faculty attention. Many private colleges have long-standing traditions, historic campuses and a rich educational history. Examples of private colleges with traditions of educational excellence that you might recognize include Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia.

Private colleges are also known for their large alumni donor base which helps them provide scholarships and other financial aid awards to students in need.

3. Community College

These days, attending community college is being touted as a wise choice by many financial experts. Many students use their time at a community college to work and save money, while taking core classes that they can transfer to a 4-year college. If you aren’t sure what type of college major or career you are interested in, exploring your interests at a community college may be an economical option. You might consider finding a suitable community college near your home to save even more money on room and board. Students who didn’t perform well in high school can improve their grades at a community college to get accepted into a 4-year college.

4. Online College

Attending an online college is considered a more “new age,” alternative way to attend college. Online colleges, also called distance learning, delivers education to students who are very rarely on-site. At an online college, you may experience learning through various formats including video conferencing, message boards, email, recorded lessons, etc. When choosing an online college, you’ll want to take things like school reputation, cost, and degree program into consideration. You should also consider whether this type of learning method works for you.

5. Vocational School

A vocational school, or trade school, teaches students job-skills that they will need in their career. Examples of vocational degrees might include automotive, culinary, massage therapy, nursing, and paralegal. The Federal Trade Commission publishes some information about choosing a vocational school here.