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Types of higher education institutions in the US

Guide to selecting the right US educational institution

There are nearly 4,500 higher educational institutions in the US including colleges and universities. While very often these terms are used interchangeably as both provide post-secondary education to students, they are different from one another and it’s important to understand the same to find your best fit.

IDP experts can help find the perfect US institution for you. Connect now.

Types of educational institutions in the US

1. Public universities

These universities are state-affiliated and often called state universities as they operate with the support of public taxes. Public universities are often but not always part of a state university system as these are a collection of public universities operating separately in different states, but with shared management and administration. Besides, all courses and degrees are offered at various post-secondary levels. The tuition fees for international students is slightly higher than regular fees but lower than private universities.  

Most popular public universities include:

  • The University of Texas

  • The University of Michigan

  • The University of Florida

  • Pennsylvania State University

  • The University of California

  • California State University 

2. Private universities

These universities are not sponsored or supported by the government. They receive private funding via faculty research grants, alumni donations, and tuition fees. Although, they receive public funding in the form of favourable tax considerations, government student loans and grants. The tuition fee of these universities is slightly higher than public universities but remain the same for domestic and international students.  

Popular private universities as per THE rankings 2021 include:

  • Harvard University

  • Stanford University

  • Yale University

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Duke University

  • Brown University 

3. Ivy League universities

These are the most famous group of American universities that were initially formed with eight private universities as an athletic conference of sports teams based in the North-east region of the US. These universities focus on undergraduate education of liberal arts with several professional and graduate schools associated with their name. Besides, the admission process in these universities is quite competitive with steep tuition fees.  

Member universities include 

  • Harvard University

  • Princeton University

  • Yale University

  • Columbia University

  • Cornell University

  • University of Pennsylvania

  • Brown University

  • Dartmouth College

 4. Technical schools

These are institutions that specialise in offering engineering, science and research degrees and courses. These are most popular with graduates who have a strong background in science and math. Some schools in the category include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California Polytechnic Institute, Virginia Tech and Georgia Institute of Technology. 

5. Liberal arts colleges

These are educational institutions that lay a strong focus on undergraduate courses in humanities, science and social science streams. These are public or private institutions with high academic standards providing individual attention in smaller classes.  

The top five liberal arts schools as per THE rankings 2021 are:

  • Amherst College

  • Williams College

  • Pomona College

  • Wellesley College

  • Swarthmore College 

6. Community colleges

These colleges offer Associate Degree for two years that allows graduates to complete their bachelor’s from different college or university, which is a popular pathway program to study in the US. Community colleges don’t have on-campus dorms or student accommodation facilities and you might find a limited number of student activities, sports teams, or clubs. However, these colleges are perfect for cash-strapped students as these are inexpensive as compared to a full-fledged four-year degree.  

The top 10 community colleges in the US are:

The type of educational institution you want to study at depends entirely on the type of degree you want to earn and field of study you want to work in. There is a college and university for each one of you in the US that meet your needs, so there is absolutely nothing to worry about. All we suggest is to research well and focus on your dream. For everything else, we are more than happy to help you at IDP. 

Updated on February 17, 2021

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