Types of colleges and how they differ

By The Understood Team

Expert reviewed by Jim Rein, MA

You may have a lot of questions when you and your child are considering college. Is a four-year degree the best choice? What about a community college or trade college? Learn about the three major options for getting a degree after high school.

Trade and vocational colleges

  • Typically two years or less
  • Students may graduate with an associate’s degree
  • Only offers career-specific courses and degrees, like automotive technology
  • Students only have to study subjects that apply to their field of interest

Junior and community colleges

  • Offer courses in liberal arts subjects as well as career-specific training, like hotel management or dental hygiene
  • Provide courses to help improve academic skills
  • Have open admission
  • Are state-funded, so tuition tends to be lower
  • Give two-year degrees, but credits can be transferred to four-year colleges
  • Most students live off campus

Four-year colleges

  • Includes liberal arts colleges and undergraduate universities
  • Can be private or state-funded
  • Schools vary in size, admissions criteria, programs, and cost
  • Students can graduate with a bachelor’s degree
  • Students may live on or off campus

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Jim Rein, MA has lectured on postsecondary options and summer programs for kids and young adults with learning and thinking differences.


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