Discover the Different Types of Colleges

Colleges ImageIt is critical that you have a foundational understanding of the different types of colleges, so you can better understand if a given undergraduate school meets your social, academic, and financial needs. This information is important whether you are learning through EDUsquared or you are doing your own research online.

Colleges can be broken down into three different types: Public, Private, and For-Profit Colleges.

Public Colleges

Every state has at least one state funded and regulated public college. Some large states have over 30 publicly funded colleges, thus the majority of states designate one school as their “flagship” school.


State residents attending an in-state public university will receive in-state tuition. In-state tuition is subsidized by the state based on the premise that the student or more likely the parent has paid state income tax. If you go to a public university and are not a resident of the state, you will have to pay out-of-state tuition. Out-of-state tuition is typically 2.5x more expensive than in-state tuition.

Student Population and Class Sizes

It is not uncommon to find a publicly funded university with well over 20,000 undergraduate students enrolled. When you enter your freshman year and take entry-level courses, it will not be uncommon to be in a massive lecture hall with well over 150 students. As you start to progress through your degree path, you will see the classroom size start to shrink to less than 40 students.

With a vast amount of students, there are great opportunities to meet new friends and build long lasting networks. Public colleges have great clubs, intermural athletics, volunteering, and Greek (Fraternity and Sorority) life.

The student population is typically in-state residents, due to the tuition subsidy. There tends to be more diversity from a racial and socioeconomic background than private schools.

Degree and Graduation Rates

Students have a wide variety of majors to study ranging from liberal arts majors to engineering majors. Graduation rates are not as high as private colleges, but are near double that of for-profit colleges.


Privates Colleges

A private college is an independent higher education institution that receives all of its funding from private sources. There is no state oversight on private college’s boards or trustees. Private colleges can set their own policies and goals.


Private Colleges have a high sticker tuition price, but typically provide generous financial aid packages for high performing students and students that demonstrate a financial need. When including financial aid packages into tuition, prices for private colleges can often be cheaper than out-of-state tuition at a public university.

Student Population and Classes

Typically, private colleges have around 2,000 undergraduate students enrolled. The average classroom size is under 20 students, which tends to be an attractive academic environment for a lot of students. Even though private colleges are smaller on average than public schools, they still offer plenty of social opportunities through great clubs, intermural athletics, volunteering opportunities, and some even have Greek (Fraternity and Sorority) life.

The student population is from a wide variety of geographic locations, but tend to be less diverse than public schools when it comes to racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Degree and Graduation Rates

Private colleges typically have a sole academic focus, such as only liberal arts majors or only engineering majors. Private colleges have the best graduation rates when compared to public and for-profit colleges.


For-Profit Colleges

A for-profit college is owned and run by a private organization or corporation and their primary objective is to make money. Unlike a public institution, they have to listen to their shareholders. For-profit schools generally have a focus on vocational and technical training.

One surprising fact about for-profit colleges is they can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid. In later posts, we will be discuss the troubling reports that are coming out on for-profit colleges.


These schools are substantially more expensive than public and private universities when you taken into account their poor student outcomes.

Student Population and Classes

Most of the for-profit schools are online based programs versus the students being physically present in a college classroom. The overwhelming majority of these schools do not offer housing, meals, sports, or student clubs.

80% of the students that enroll at these schools are over the age of 24.

Degree and Graduation Rates

These schools offer a wide variety of online degrees, but it is important to note that only 31.5% of for-profit college students graduate within 6 years according to Federal Data.



It is important to remember the differences between public, private, and for-profit colleges and how your social, academic, and financial needs come into the picture when you select where you want to go for your undergraduate education.

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July 17, 2017

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