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Types of Colleges and Universities for Your Child

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Helping your child pick a college can be much like choosing a spouse — finding the right match is of the utmost importance. In the long run, college is for your child, not you — even if your wallet does have something to say about it. With more than 3,500 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone, you should be able to facilitate a college search that is not only fun and interesting, but which will also result in finding more than one school that can make both of you happy.

The first aspect of college information you should explore is deciding what type of school both you and your child prefer, keeping in mind that your child's high school academic performance, personal interests, and future goals, as well as your ability to contribute will all have an impact on this decision.

Two-year schools
There are more than 1,500 two-year schools in America, and they are commonly called junior, community, or technical colleges. Most offer programs that allow students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities, but may also provide specific training through occupational programs in fields such as administrative studies, automotive technology, or computer programming — careers that don't typically require a bachelor's degree.

There are some two-year colleges that maintain a selective admission process and require standardized test scores (these are primarily private schools), but most offer "open" (or noncompetitive) admission to all applicants with a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, even noncompetitive schools may have academic prerequisites for certain programs, such as technical or nursing programs.

There are many benefits to including two-year schools your child's college search. These schools attract students from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, and abilities. They are ideal schools for those eager to get out into the working world quickly, and their flexible scheduling options, convenient locations, and low costs also make them attractive opportunities.

One of the biggest draws of two-year schools is their role as a "testing ground" for students who struggled through high school. They also offer you the opportunity to save money on tuition while your child completes prerequisite and core course requirements before moving on to a four-year university to complete the more targeted coursework of their major.

Liberal arts schools
If your child is interested in a liberal arts school that will provide a broad-based education, many college guides can help you discover gems of this type. Liberal arts schools expose their students to a wide range of disciplines, with the goal of preparing them to reason and to communicate based on the lessons of history, literature, philosophy, physics, and dozens of other disciplines. Certainly not career-specific, liberal arts educations provide today's high-tech world with thinkers and problem-solvers, not just narrowly trained specialists.

There is a lot of pressure of colleges and universities to provide a career-relevant education today. With that in mind, some schools hedge their bets by offering additional programs in areas like engineering and journalism. However, remember that Latin majors go to law school, music majors make money on Wall Street, and many of our nation's greatest leaders — and wealthiest tycoons — pursued liberal arts educations.

Four-year universities
Liberal arts schools may be part of a bigger university system that offers four-year programs with a more professional orientation, such as a College of Engineering, a School of Allied Health Sciences, or a School of Hotel Management.

There is plenty of college information about what four-year institutions can offer to your child, including graduate programs and a wide range of services and facilities that a two-year or liberal arts school may not be able to offer. However, they may also be so large that as an undergrad, your child may not be much more than part of "the machine."

Keep your child's interests at heart
Every school, private or public, has its own unique culture. It really depends on the school and on what your child will get out of it. It's important to take that into consideration when navigating through all the college info you're presented with.

Ultimately, the thing to keep in mind is that, despite what you may want, your child may want something opposite. Everyone is different and what's right for you may not be right for someone else. However, you don't have to throw all practicality aside, because with a little searching, you can find a school that you'll both agree on.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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