Choosing the right college or university is just as important as deciding to attend. A study done by the ACT in 2013 revealed that 50% of high school seniors selected their college or university based on their desired major. Of those very same students, 60% reported a need for more support with their educational and occupational decisions.

In response, we have created a list of several different types of universities that students choose from. Why? Because although choosing a major dictates what career a student will pursue, an institution’s philosophy and focus impacts the nature of the graduating student to an extent that high school seniors may not fully grasp. In our list, we’ll look at these types of institutions: liberal arts, vocational, community, and conservatory. Each type approaches education differently based on mission and vision.


Liberal Arts

Receiving a liberal arts education usually equates to attending a small four-year university where students take courses in the humanities, arts, sciences, and social sciences. Because these schools usually have fewer than 5,000 students, strong relationships between the student and professorial communities likely exist. Liberal arts schools put their community-centered missions at the forefront, and students are often reminded of the universities’ values in their core classes. Core (required) curriculums often include classes in religion, philosophy, literature, math, science, psychology, and sociology. Liberal arts schools focus on teaching their students to be well-rounded and well-versed in a variety of fields, and experts in their own.


For students who are interested in getting into the workforce quickly, vocational schools are great options. Sometimes called career or trade schools, students at these institutions can expect one or two year programs where they take classes specifically related to their fields of study. Often times these schools are privately owned, and may partner with high schools to give juniors and seniors in high school the opportunity to graduate with recognizable trade certificates. Common programs include: cosmetology, carpentry, hotel and restaurant management, automotive studies, culinary arts, and medical billing and coding. This form of education assures students a certification that successfully propels them into the workforce.


Often times used as a gateway to four-year institutions, community colleges can help students save money and explore different concentrations, and also provide flexible schedules for busier students. These colleges are usually open enrollment with the exception of programs that may require placement or entry tests such as law enforcement, nursing, engineering technology, and computer technology. According to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, about two-thirds of community college students do so with the intent to transfer to a four-year institution, making this option great for students who are seeking a transition between high school and a four-year institution. Additionally, these schools strive to work around busy schedules and are great options for pursuing education even if time doesn’t seem to allow.


For students hoping to become professional performers, the best curriculum may be one dedicated specifically to the arts. Conservatories may have students take classes such as music history and art theory in place of typical general studies courses. Although majors are not limited to those in the arts, students can expect to be engaged with the arts in many of their courses, aside from those for their specific degrees. Conservatories have rigorous curriculums and are typically selective, however, offer unmatched experiences for students seeking careers in the performing arts.


This list provides just an overview of the variety of university types that there are to choose from. While there are other factors to consider when choosing the perfect college, such as size, religious affiliation, location, selectivity, and others, we hope this information serves as a resource for those who are hoping to offer guidance to students, or are students themselves and are not quite sure what differences exist between the different types of higher educational institutions.




About Education at Work

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About Laura Forero

Laura Forero is currently a junior at Xavier University studying Public Relations and Advertising. She enjoys reading, writing, and following a PR crisis as it unfolds. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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