While no two are exactly alike, most colleges fit into one or more of the following categories:

Liberal arts colleges focus on the education of undergraduate students. Classes are generally taught by professors who see teaching as their primary responsibility. Students who attend liberal arts colleges are exposed to a broad sampling of classes. In addition, they select at least one area of in-depth study that is their college major. Many employers look for graduates of liberal arts programs because they are well-rounded.

Universities are generally larger and include a liberal arts college, as well as colleges focused on preparation for specific careers, like nursing or education. Universities offer a greater range of academic choices than liberal arts colleges, but often come with classes that are quite large. Research opportunities and other extracurricular options are readily available.

Technical institutes and professional schools enroll students who have made clear decisions about what they want to study and emphasize preparation for specific careers in music, fine arts, engineering, or technical sciences.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities originated at a time when African-American students were systematically denied access to most other colleges and universities. Students at HBCUs have a unique opportunity to experience an educational community in which they are a part of the majority. They find committed faculty mentors who encourage their expectations of success.

Tribal colleges are similar to HBCUs, but they focus on the needs and education of American-Indian students.

Similarly, women’s colleges, with their larger numbers of female faculty and administrators, offer college women confidence-building role models, greater opportunities to serve in a full range of student leadership positions, and a heightened awareness of career possibilities for women. Women’s colleges graduate a high number of science majors, as well as students who continue on to graduate school and/or professional studies.

Religiously-affiliated colleges and universities were formed by religious groups and organizations. Although they are not limited in admission to members of that religious group, they often run in alignment with religious principles. To graduate, students may be required to take one or two religion classes (and sometimes more).

Community or junior colleges generally offer the first two years of a liberal arts education in addition to specialized occupational preparation. An associate degree is awarded at the end of a two-year program of studies. Many students continue their education at a four-year institution.

For-profit colleges operate under the demands of investors or stockholders. These private institutions exist, at least in part, to maximize profits for their owners. Not all for-profit schools are predatory. But countless instances of unscrupulous conduct by for-profit colleges have been revealed through investigations by the federal government, media, and state attorneys general.