Types of Colleges

Colleges often are classified or listed by a variety of descriptions. Most colleges fit into many of the description categories simultaneously. Based on the profile of the population served by your access program, it may be necessary for access advisors to become familiar with groups of colleges, i.e., Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and Tribal Colleges. The amount of admissions background information a college access professional needs will be determined by the primary services administered to students by the access program.


The following list of the descriptions is often used to distinguish types of colleges:

Four Year – Colleges or universities that issue a Bachelor of Arts or Science Degree upon completion of all required coursework for a major, usually requiring a four-year timeframe. These colleges and universities offer a comprehensive education that will focus on a particular area as well as require general education courses to provide students with a well-rounded curriculum.

Two Year – Colleges that issue an Associate of Arts or Science Degree upon completion of all required coursework for a major, usually requiring a two-year timeframe. These colleges often contain the word “community” or “junior” in their name. Two-year colleges also may offer technical programs for which diplomas or certificates will be issued. Diploma and certificate programs usually require a shorter timeframe and often do not require much general education coursework.

Public – Colleges or universities that receive state supported subsidies for residents of that state who enroll. Lower tuition costs are often associated with these colleges because the state support can allow the institutions to reduce the fees charged to students.

Private – Colleges that are self-supporting and receive no direct subsidy from state funding. These colleges often are labeled as “independent” colleges as well. Higher tuition costs are often associated with these colleges based on their self-supporting status.

Proprietary – College that are privately owned and poised to make a financial profit for owners or share-holders. Many of these colleges/schools will offer degrees/diplomas for technical career fields.

Very Selective/Highly Competitive – Colleges or universities that may receive as many as 10-15 applications for each admissions slot available. Applicants will have to demonstrate an extremely strong, rigorous academic record as well as a comprehensive profile of other strengths, achievements, involvements and honors in order to be admitted.

More Selective/Competitive – Colleges or universities that will receive more applications that they have slots available. Applicants usually will have some combination of high school grades, test scores, class rank, essays, recommendations, activities, honors and achievements reviewed and rated in order to be admitted. Some applicants usually will be denied admission.

Less Selective – Colleges or universities that have minimum requirements for admission. All applicants that meet the requirements are usually admitted.

Open – Colleges or universities that may require only a high school diploma or GED for admission purposes. Many community colleges fall into this category and may not even require any diploma or GED if they have an alternative entry option. There usually are no minimum academic standards required.

Liberal Arts – Colleges that usually offer a broad base of classes in humanities, social sciences and science. Many liberal arts colleges will be small, private and primary focuses on undergraduate education. Degree programs at liberal arts colleges may often be inter/cross disciplinary.

Bible Colleges – Colleges whose undergraduate program focuses on a significant amount of Bible study along with some general education coursework. Many of these colleges are preparing students to enter the ministry or other religious occupations.

Special Interests – College or universities that have a dominant characteristic such as:

  • Single-Sex – enrollment restricted to all female or all male students

  • Historically Black – institutions dedicated to serving African-American students. These colleges generally were created at a time when minority students were being denied access to most colleges/universities.

  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions – colleges/universities whose total undergraduate student enrollment consists of at least 25% students of Hispanic descent.

  • Tribal – colleges or universities whose enrollments primarily consist of students of Native American descent.

  • Religious Affiliations – colleges or universities identified with certain religious denominations such as Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, etc.