When I’ve been giving college presentations lately, I’ve begun asking the members of the audience this question:
How many people here know the difference between a college and a university?
It’s rare that even one person raises his or her hand. Yikes. I think it’s important to understand the distinctions before exploring a student’s higher-ed choices. Consequently, I’m going to rerun a few posts that I wrote last year that I hope will help you and others understand the different types of schools available. Here is the first one:
The 4 Types of Colleges and Universities
Here’s one of my biggest pet peeves about how teenagers look for colleges:
When teenagers put together a list of potential colleges, a campus size requirement is often way up at the top of their criteria.
- I want to go to a big school.
- I don’t want to go to small school.
- I’m interested in a medium-sized school.
Hardly anyone questions teenagers for focusing on size. In fact, many high school counselors tell kids to look at size when evaluating schools. The reason why I’m writing about this today is because a father emailed me last week and mentioned that his son only wants to go to a medium-sized school (5,000 to 10,000 students) on the East Coast.
Why, you might be wondering, does this size thing bug me? It’s because when kids evaluate colleges by size they are missing a much larger factor that should go into their college admission decisions. When teens and parents ask how big a school is, they rarely ask what is its educational mission.
In my mind, a school’s mission is far more important than its size. There is a link, however, between a school’s mission and size that is important to consider when evaluating schools.
Major Categories of Colleges and Universities
There are four main categories of four-year colleges and universities:
If a kid is most interested in a big school, state flagship universities are an obvious choice. Among the biggest in this category are Arizona State (68,064 students), Ohio State (55,014), University of Washington (45,943), Penn State (45,198) and University of Arizona (38,767). Private research universities are typically smaller. Harvard, for instance, has 10,400 undergrad and graduate students.
Master’s degree universities
In this category you’ll find medium-sized state schools, as well as private universities. Examples of private master’s degree universities include Villanova University (PA), Santa Clara University (CA), Creighton University (NE), Emerson College (MA), The Citadel (SC) and Rollins College (FL). Plenty of state universities fall into this category, including College of New Jersey, Rowan University (NJ), James Madison University (VA) and SUNY-Geneseo (NY).
Most liberal arts colleges are private, but there are public liberal arts colleges too. When teens say they don’t want to go to a small school they are typically eliminating these from contention. Most private liberal arts colleges have less than 2,000 students. Private liberal arts colleges include such schools as Vassar College (NY), Whitman College (WA), Washington and Lee (VA) and Kalamazoo College (MI). Both of my children attend liberal arts colleges — Juniata College (PA) and Beloit College (WI). Public liberal arts colleges include Truman State (MO) University, New College of Florida, Evergreen State University (WA), Sonoma State University (my nephew attends) and the University of North Carolina, Asheville.
These are typically as small as liberal arts colleges. They focus on one area of expertise such as business or art. Schools in this category include Curtis Institute of Music (PA), Rhode Island School of Design, Ringling College of Art and Design (FL), Babson College (MA), Bentley College (MA) and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (IN).
More on Each Type of School
In my following posts, you’ll learn what the missions of each of these schools are. When you understand what they can offer, you might not be so quick to fixate on size.
If you look primarily at size when looking for schools, you face a high risk of eliminating some wonderful opportunities.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also write a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.