A lot of the reasons that parents worry about their kids going off to college has to do with the sheer number of choices that they're faced with. With approximately 3,000 traditional four-year colleges and about half as many two-year colleges, the options can start to get overwhelming in a hurry.
Narrowing Down Your Options
Fortunately, you and your son or daughter don't need to sort through all 7,000-plus post-secondary colleges in the country to pin down a good fit. Often teens about to go off to college have a ballpark idea of the size of school they want to attend.
One huge factor is whether your child wants to commute to school everyday and wants extra family support while pursuing a higher degree or whether s/he's more socially self-sufficient and ready to enter the dorms.
From there you should, if you haven't already, take into account the reason for going to college in the first place. Although lifetime earnings go way up for holders of a bachelor's degree, finances clearly aren't the only - and maybe not even the primary - consideration.
These can be difficult questions to answer but, as you read about the different types of colleges below, it can be helpful to think about which college matches the values, talents and goals of your child.
Types of Colleges to Consider
To John Belushi in the movie "Animal House" who memorably donned his "college" sweater, there probably wasn't much difference between college and university.
The difference for the rest of us, though, is that a four-year college gives students a bachelor of arts (B.A.) or bachelor of science (B.S.) degree upon completion whereas universities typically offer a range of advanced degrees (e.g., doctorates) in addition to undergraduate bachelor's degrees.
Some four-year colleges have an exclusive focus on specific areas like music and culinary arts. Then again, other four-year colleges focus more broadly on delivering a wider liberal arts education to students.
If you have a son or daughter considering an eventual doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of jurisprudence (J.D.) degree in hopes of becoming a doctor or lawyer, respectively, then s/he'll need a bachelor's from a four-year college.
Four-year colleges can also be public or private. The key difference is that public colleges or universities are typically larger and receive public funding from the state whereas private colleges are smaller and receive funding mainly from tuition.
Junior and community colleges are typically more affordable than their four-year counterparts. These types of colleges offer students associate's degrees and college certificates that can translate directly into a job in the real-world.
Alternatively, many junior and community college students attend a two-year college prior to transferring to a four-year institution. This is a great strategy for saving money and allowing more time for your son or daughter to figure things out.
A technical college that provides a more focused, practical curriculum (e.g., electrical engineering or information technology) is ideal for students who already know what they want to do career-wise in a few years.
Technical colleges (a.k.a., trade schools) can take as few as a couple months to a few years to complete. Students can expect certification and licensure directly applicable to the real-world upon graduation.