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Though both nonprofit and for-profit colleges can offer an equal level of education, there are some things you need to keep in mind, no matter where you go. Their focus of education slightly differs as their goals for success are measured differently as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other, but it is better to arm yourself with the truth before spending a large sum of money on what mind end up being a useless degree.

Academic offerings

Though many of the degree and certificate programs can be the same in both colleges, nonprofits tend to offer more traditional education in science, the arts and humanities, mathematics, and engineering.

For-profit colleges, on the other hand, tend to offer more skills-based training and vocational education in various trades, including design, automotive, medical assistant, and hospitality.

However, depending on the college, any degree or certificate program can be offered at both institutions.

The other thing to keep in mind is that most for-profit college credits won’t be able to transfer to another institution, especially to nonprofit schools. Nonprofit colleges generally allow transference of credits between other nonprofit schools that have the same degree compositions, but not always. It is best to check with the specific school about this.

Campus life and amenities

Most nonprofit schools will offer some sort of campus life and student activities, like a tutoring, Greek life, club sports, gym, and campus festivities.

For-profit schools don’t generally offer these type of amenities as they are typically online and are directed towards non-traditional students who work full time or are unable to attend a traditional academic experiences.

Admissions and accreditation

For-profit colleges can have both regional and national accreditation, though with these types of schools you want to be sure of this before attending. The admissions process is always typically an open-admission, which means they only require a high school diploma or GED to be accepted. Some for-profit schools have recently gone under scrutiny by the federal government for fraudulent practices and even to the point of having their federal student loan program taken away, as in the case of ITT Tech.

Nonprofit colleges will generally have a more extensive admissions process where you will have to submit more documentation to prove you would be a qualified student, like a statement of purpose, transcripts, SAT and ACT scores, and personal essays. Accreditation can also be both regional and national and you should absolutely check before attending.


Though nonprofit schools are beginning to offer more and more online classes and full degree programs, for-profit degree programs are set up for this. Nonprofit schools will have a semester or trimester program where you have to start school at a certain time, while for-profit schools will often offer classes on the student’s own time, sometimes allowing the student to complete coursework without a specific deadline. For-profit schools are great for students with families and have to work full-time, leaving them with a minimal free-time. Always research the quality of education that the school offers before attending.

Tuition and federal assistance

Tuition at for-profit schools is generally higher because the purpose of the school is to make money as they will have an owner and shareholders who back the school’s funding. What this means is that they have an obligation to make a certain amount of money each year in order to stay open. Some colleges, in the case of ITT Tech more recently, have had their federal student loan assistance revoked, which has caused them to have to shut down. This will leave a lot of students without transferable credits and a large student loan bill.

Nonprofit schools will generally be less expensive, especially for community colleges and students who qualify for in-state tuition. Though their funding comes partly through student tuition, they also receive monies from taxes and state and federal assistance and aren’t necessarily accessed by the amount of money they bring in. Students will also have access to federal aid through FAFSA. It is a huge red flag if they don’t.

Wherever you decide to go, do your due diligence when choosing a school. You will want to receive the best education that your money can provide, especially with the rising rates of tuition and need to end up finding a well-paying career. Degree programs will certainly play a role in this as well, but definitely consider the school’s quality of education offered as well.