Applying to college shouldn’t be a fulltime job, but often it can feel that way. Ideally you’ve already started thinking about what you want from your college experience, but it can be confusing and at times overwhelming when you’re working with a vocabulary you just don’t know. To make it easier, I’ll be putting out a series of blog posts defining some basic terms that will likely pop up during your search!
First up is a primer on some of the types of schools and degrees that are out there. The three factors I touched on below are a great place to start but are by no means the end when it comes to the variety of options available to you.
Associate’s Degree vs Bachelor’s Degree
An associate’s degree is typically a two year program that prepares students for particular careers or acts as a gateway to transferring to a four year bachelor’s degree program. Both public and private schools can grant associate’s degrees, with community colleges being one of the most popular options for an associate’s.
A bachelor’s degree is a typically four year program that prepares students for the work force or to continue onto graduate level education. Bachelor’s degrees might also be called undergraduate degrees to differentiate them from graduate degree programs (Master’s and Doctorates being among two options for graduate degrees).
Public vs Private
A public institution is one that receives substantial funding from the state government and is traditionally charged with educating the students of that state. One way public institutions serve their local constituents is by offering in-state tuition that tends to be lower than the tuition a student would pay if they were coming from outside of that state.
Private institutions still may receive some state funding in the form of research grants or scholarship programs but are much less tied to any specific governmental organization. They typically have the same tuition for all students regardless of state residency. There is a misconception that private institutions will always cost more than a public institution when in reality it depends on each individual family’s Estimated Family Contribution and any sort of need or merit based aid the school gives out. For example, Tufts meets 100% of demonstrated need, regardless of a student’s state residency or citizenship status. For more on financial aid, check out Meghan’s series here.
Liberal Arts College vs Research University
I have to start by saying that this “vs” is a bit misleading; there are two factors at play here that are often pitted against each other unnecessarily.
The primary difference between a college and a university is that a college only offers undergraduate degrees while a university offers graduate degrees (masters and doctoral programs, including but not limited to PhDs, graduate medical degrees, law degrees, graduate business degrees, etc). Most schools will have the word college or university in their name (such as Tufts University) to make it easier to identify whether or not they offer graduate programs. A very small number of schools will have the word college in their name and offer graduate programs but are unable to change their name because of historical reasons. If you feel having graduate programs as an option will be an important part of your college search, I recommend googling the school to be sure.
Research in the context of research university typically means that the school has graduate programs up to the doctorate level and has a focus on the creation of new knowledge through academic level research. Liberal arts institutions tend to offer academic programs that focus more on broader concepts that will prepare students for all careers instead of specialized skills to prepare students for a specific career. Instead of business, they’ll offer economics; instead of nursing, they’ll offer biology; instead of information technology, they’ll offer computer engineering.
Traditionally many colleges teach the liberal arts and many universities focus on research but that’s not exclusively true. Tufts, for example, is a research university with an undergraduate liberal arts program within it. We have tremendous research opportunities as a Research Intensive institution but still teach the liberal arts as that’s core to our mission as a university.
Keep an eye out for the next installation of this series where I’ll be talking about academic immersion experiences colleges can offer outside of the classroom.
Have questions? Post them in the comments!