School selection can be an overwhelming task for college-bound high school juniors. There are literally thousands of colleges and universities to choose from in the United States.
Although every educational institution is unique, it is possible to fit most colleges and universities into one of several broad categories. A helpful first choice when choosing a school is to understand what these types of institutions are and how well they fit your personal preferences and learning style.
liberal arts colleges – Liberal Arts Colleges are 4-year institutions dedicated to providing a broad undergraduate education. Students are required to take a range of courses in the arts, humanities, and science outside of their major. Liberal arts colleges tend to be small, with 1,500 to 8,000 total enrollments. A close-knit community is a key element of their educational model, and they will cut enrollment if they feel the campus population is becoming too large. Additionally, many liberal arts colleges are located in rural areas, small towns, or suburbs. Carleton, Hamilton, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Amherst, Haverford, Mount Holyoke, Claremont McKenna, Swarthmore, Williams, Smith, Bowdoin, Bates, Reed, Colby and Middlebury are just a few of the many excellent liberal arts colleges in the United States
Pluses: Outstanding teaching standards. Close contact with faculty who can act as mentors and/or referrers for graduate studies. Small, tight-knit communities.
Minuses: The location can be remote. Limited range of classes and/or majors. Libraries and other resources may be limited. Limited choice of restaurants and accommodation. Can get expensive.
The Ivy League – Believe it or not, this term is said to have originally been coined to denote a collegiate athletic league. Since then, of course, it has come into common use as an abbreviation for a group of some of the oldest and most prestigious educational institutions in the United States. The 8 Ivy League member schools are Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Columbia University and Cornell. Each of the Ivy League schools is a unique institution with its own institutional culture and distinctive educational experience. Potential applicants should make sure to research each school separately.
Pluses: Outstanding education. Prestigious. Excellent facilities and educational support.
Minuses: Hard-fought approvals. Expensive.
residential colleges – A residential college is much more than just a university with campus accommodation. It is a college where students’ daily lives are part of their educational experience. The colleges where students reside organize lectures and other learning experiences in addition to social events. This lifestyle is designed to provide students with a strong sense of community, the opportunity to interact with a variety of other students, and the opportunity to form strong relationships with faculty. Only a small number of US colleges offer a real housing option. These include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury, the University of Virginia, Rice University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Northwestern University.
Pluses: A close community that leads to lifelong friendships. A stimulating and integrated learning and living environment.
Minuses: Communities can be too tight-knit for some tastes. Limited living, dining and entertainment facilities. Can be expensive.
Honors programs – Many major colleges and universities offer high-performing students the opportunity to enroll in an honors program. Honors students take small, seminar-style courses that are more challenging than regular courses on the same subjects, and that allow them close contact with faculty. You may be asked to complete a thesis or project. At some schools, honors students live in designated housing and have access to special scholarships and internships.
Pluses: Excellent academics. Close contact with professors who can serve as mentors and/or referrers for graduate studies. A chance to create a thesis or other final project. Honors programs at public universities often represent excellent value for state residents.
Minuses: Not really a substitute for a liberal arts college experience, if that’s what you’re after.
research universities – These are comprehensive universities where faculty and PhD students focus on original research. The top US research universities attract talent from across the country and around the world. A partial list of top US research universities includes Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Duke, MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, Pennsylvania State University, UCLA, UC – Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Michigan.
Pluses: Excellent academics. Access to world-class graduate programs. Contact with cutting-edge research. Excellent libraries, laboratories and other facilities.
Minuses: Hard-fought approvals. Students may have more contact with teaching assistants than with faculty.
flagship universities – A flagship university is the main campus of a state higher education system. Flagships are comprehensive universities and usually include graduate or professional schools in addition to undergraduate colleges. Flagship universities have competitive admissions and are often ranked among the top universities in the country. These include “public Ivies” such as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and the Pennsylvania State University.
Pluses: Excellent academics. Access to world-class graduate programs. Lively social and sports scenes. A wide range of classes. Relatively low tuition for state residents.
Minuses: Huge campuses and large student populations can make it easy to get lost. Main campuses may be located in remote rural areas. Students are likely to have more contact with teaching assistants than with faculty. Classes can include several hundred students and provide little opportunity for discussion or feedback.
Land Grant Universities – These are large public universities originally built on federal land in exchange for the obligation to educate the public. The main task of these universities continues to be public education. Undergraduate programs are often balanced with active graduate, continuing education, outreach, and professional programs.
Pluses: Less competitive admissions and relatively low tuition for state residents.
Minuses: Great campus and classes. The quality of the programs and departments varies.
music conservatories and art schools – These are specialized academies that train students in the visual and performing arts. Some schools (particularly those affiliated with a university or college consortium) offer the option of a broader liberal arts education in addition to arts education. Others focus solely on developing their students’ artistic talents. Most of these schools require an audition or portfolio as part of the admissions process. Top schools include the Julliard School, Eastman School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Rhode Island School of Design, Pratt Institute, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Yale Art School.
Pluses: Outstanding education. Prestigious. Special career placement and networking opportunities.
Minuses: Hard-fought approvals. Education and/or coursework can be difficult to transfer to other schools or fields.
community colleges and junior colleges – These are two-year institutions that offer Associate of Arts (AA) degrees. Most are non-residential commuter schools. Community colleges typically practice open admissions, meaning anyone who meets their minimum standards is guaranteed enrollment. Many offer smaller classes and a more supportive learning environment than large 4-year institutions. A growing number of college graduates are choosing to save money by pursuing a 2-year degree at a community college and then transferring to a 4-year institution for their junior and senior years.
Pluses: Stress-free shots. Inexpensive. Teaching and academic support can be very good.
Minuses: Instructional options and library and laboratory resources may be limited. Transfers to 4-year facilities may become more difficult as more people choose this option. Not all coursework may be transferrable to a 4-year institution. Social life and extracurricular activities may be restricted.
Thanks to David Petersam | #College #Choices