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Types of colleges

Going to a school that isn’t the right fit can feel like walking in shoes that are the wrong size: they may be awesome shoes, but they might not be the right ones for you. There are many more types of colleges than just the public universities that are often portrayed in movies and TV shows. Choosing the right college fit for you will involve exploring technical colleges, community colleges, public and private colleges, as well as universities. Let’s explore the types of colleges and degrees available to you.


What is college?

We use the term “college” to include the many different types of colleges and postsecondary certificate programs. Technical colleges, community colleges, and bachelor’s granting colleges and universities are all different types of colleges. Often, when you hear the word college, you may only think of one kind of institution, possibly the large four-year universities like Texas A&M or The University of Texas at Austin. But in fact, you should consider many different types of colleges when identifying which college will be a good fit for you. It is important to consider the career path you are pursuing when selecting a college, as each of these types of colleges can provide a valuable degree that meets the requirements of different career paths.


Full-time or part-time?

College students have more freedom to choose how many courses they will take each semester than high school students. For example, you can choose to take one course or six or more courses in a semester. Going to school full-time involves being in class for 12-20 hours a week (4-6 classes total). Anything less than that is considered part-time.

Pro-Tip: 12-20 hours a week may not seem like much, but most college programs have 2-3 hours of homework for each credit hour. So, a 15-hour course load would translate to about 45 hours a week total spent in class, on class work, and on studying to receive high grades.

Full-time attendance means you can finish sooner, have access to more financial aid, and are taking at least 12 credit hours per semester. Attending college full-time dramatically increases the likelihood of earning your degree. If you have many other family and financial obligations, attending part-time can help you take steps toward completing your degree. Other learning options, such as daytime classes, evening classes, or online classes, may also be worth exploring in order to find the best fit for you. If you plan to attend part-time, it’s important to check your degree plan’s part-time availability, as some courses are only offered one semester each academic year.


Types of college degrees

Degrees after high school can be grouped into three categories: bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and certificate/technical programs. Master’s and doctoral degrees are options to further your education and specialization beyond earning a bachelor’s degree. There is no “right” degree path; this all depends on your career goals.

Here’s a brief breakdown of each type of degree:

  • Bachelor’s Degree; Estimated time to complete — Four years (attending full-time)
  • Associate’s Degree: Estimated time to complete — Two years (attending full-time)
  • Certificate/Technical School: Estimated time to complete — Varies: Usually shorter than an associate’s or bachelor’s, and often six months to one year.


Bachelor’s Degree

  • Broad focus of study.
  • Students take classes across a variety of subjects that become more specialized over time.
  • A wide range of job and career options after graduating

Associate’s Degree

  • Studies will not become as specialized or in-depth as in a bachelor’s program.
  • Degrees are specifically geared towards a career path or area of study.

Certificate/Technical School

  • Very focused on a specific position or career.
  • Certificates or technical degrees prepare you with the skills you need for a highly specific job or career path.

Example degrees

  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration
  • Associate of Science in Nursing
  • Associate of Applied Science in Audio Engineering
  • Business Management Technology Certificate
  • Diploma in Practical Nursing
  • Electrical Construction Certificate

Degree comparison

  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration: With a concentration in general management, you will learn to manage people, information, and resources.
  • Associate of Science in Business Administration: You will learn basic business principles that are needed for administrative roles and build a strong foundation for earning a bachelor’s degree.
  • Business Management Technology Certificate: You will learn the foundational skills needed for an entry-level administrative position.

What about a Bachelor of Arts?

You may notice that some institutions offer both Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) and Bachelor’s of Science (BS). Both bachelor’s degrees carry the same value, but the coursework will look a bit different between the two. In general, a BA will allow you to cover the topic of your major in a more broad and general way, while a BS will allow you to drill down into the specifics of your major a bit more. Talking to an admissions advisor about your career goals can help you decide between the two options. Some programs will only have a BS or BA, so it’s helpful to look at what is offered at your potential school. The same logic would also apply to an Associate of Science and an Associate of Arts degree.

Warning: When choosing an institution, stay away from “for-profit” schools. These schools are usually expensive and are not as reliable as nonprofit institutions. This means that credits earned from a for-profit school may not transfer to another institution, and a degree may not be recognized by some employers. Students are able to gain the same technical skills from Texas public or private community colleges for much less cost.


Next steps

Now that you understand the different types of colleges and degrees available, let’s take a look at what you should consider when comparing different colleges.

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