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What Kinds of Colleges Are Out There?

Colleges are like flavors of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins—they come in all sorts of varieties.

But primarily, colleges and universities are easily broken down based on structure and philosophy. Consider public versus private colleges, or two-year colleges versus four-year colleges, and you begin to get the picture.

Make no mistake, understanding what different types of colleges offer is a key step in deciding where you’ll spend your next four years on campus—and where you’ll get your diploma.

What Kinds of College Degrees Are Out There?

If you are a senior heading off to college and haven’t figured out what kind of college degree you would like to attain, then you might expect the third degree from parents, teachers, and even peers on your area of academic interest on campus—and, possibly, for the rest of your life.

The good news? There is no shortage of data and research detailing the different types of college and university degrees, and the best of that data is laid out for you right here.

Majorly Undecided: Thinking About College Majors

You don’t have to know what you want to study before you go to college, although this knowledge can help narrow down what schools you should apply to. For some students, it’s like they’re born knowing what they want to do, but for most the journey of discovery takes several years.

The vast majority of colleges do not require you to declare a major upon entry, so don’t get too worked up about it. But you’ll benefit from starting the search for your major sooner than later.

There is no shortage of college majors, and each is designed to let you hit the ground running in your career of choice. So where do you start? Read on!

How to Begin the College Search

The best way to search for colleges or universities?

Go to your favorite Web search engine and type in “top colleges,” “top colleges (in your state),” or, if you have a specific field of interest, “top colleges in (your field of study).” See what comes up.

For more comprehensive, detailed, and best yet, free online college research sources, check out:

CollegeNavigator ( by The National Center for Education Statistics. It’s a comprehensive database of schools searchable by location, major, degrees and college type.

Forbes has a helpful list of top colleges (, which includes links to college websites.

Also, for more budget-friendly college options, check out Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges” (

More online resources:

College Search Books
Two great college admissions books include “Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College” by Sally P. Springer, Jon Reider and Marion R. Franck, and “Getting In” by Karen Stabiner.

College Guides and Directories:

  • College Handbook (by The College Board)
  • The Complete Book of Colleges (by The Princeton Review)
  • Four-Year Colleges (by Peterson’s)
  • Ultimate College Guide (by U.S. News & World Report)

Look for these and other books on college admissions at your school guidance counselor’s office or library, or a public library.

Local Versus Out of Town Colleges

Local versus out of town often comes down to one key criterion—cost.

Out-of-state colleges tend to carry a bigger tuition burden if you’ll be paying out-of-state tuition fees, but they also can offer more academic flexibility. Getting away from your hometown also may help you broaden your horizons, meet new friends and potential career contacts, and allow you to focus like a laser beam on your studies. You also should consider the cost of traveling home for holidays and breaks.

Local schools cost less to attend if you’re paying in-state tuition, and they offer more access to grants and scholarships for “in-state only” students. Tuition at private schools is not dependent on where you live or which state you or your parents are residents of.

Your best move? Make a wish list of the criteria your dream college should include and apply it to in-state and out-of-state schools. Focus on the best academic and financial match that fits your unique needs.

Also, you can look for regional student exchange programs in which a group of states offer reduced tuition to out-of-state students who wish to pursue a major that is not offered by a college in their own state. Here are a few:

How to Find the Right College for You

Of all the issues impacting first-generation college students, perhaps the most important—and also the most overwhelming—is what to prioritize when researching the college of your choice.

Those priorities may vary depending on the student, but there is some uniform ground to cover, including the size of the school, its location (especially in-state versus out of state), academic reputation, and oh yes, cost.

For first-gen college applicants, “job one” is to weigh each issue carefully, figure out what matters most to you, and make a priority list and decision that is unique to you, that works for you, and that allows you to succeed when you hit campus. Here’s how to get the job done.

Mastering the College Visit

A wise person once said that 90 percent of life is just showing up.

So it goes for the college campus visit, which offers its own set of challenges. See our tips on how to make the most of your campus tour.

Even if you don’t have the budget to visit all of the colleges on your list, you can still get a ton of information from online virtual tours and by talking to current students and alumni. Keep reading for more information.