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A definitive guide to the types of universities in the USA

So you have finally decided to study abroad and zeroed in on the US as your study abroad destination. Great Decision! Now, you must be wondering about which university to choose? Well, before you pinpoint your university, it is essential that you understand the types of universities in the USA. 

Understanding the types of universities in the USA will help you narrow down your university options and work out your study costs and other expenses. 

But, let's understand the higher education system in the US before we delve into the university types. 

Higher Education system in the US

The US higher education system is divided into 4 major programs or degree levels. These programs are pursued upon completion of high school (12th grade). 

1. Associate’s Degree

This 2-year Undergraduate degree is for students looking to jump into the workforce immediately. It prepares students in a particular skill or trade for entry-level jobs like Nurses, Data Researchers, Technicians, and other vocational areas. 

Associate Degrees are usually offered in Local Community Colleges or Junior Colleges. Some of the common Associate Degrees are -

  • Associate of Science (A.S)
  • Associate of Arts (A.A)
  • Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S)

Community Colleges charge lesser tuition fees and their admission requirements are relaxed when compared to Bachelor’s Degree or 4-year Universities. So, students generally take up an Associate Degree and upon completion (4.0 GPA is a must), transfer their credits to Universities and study for 2 more years to attain a full-fledged Bachelor’s Degree. 

2. Bachelor’s Degree

This 3-4 year Undergraduate Degree is for students looking to graduate in a particular area of study, like History, Biology, or Science. Almost all Universities across the USA offers bachelor's Degree. Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree find jobs in both entry-level as well as managerial posts. 

A Bachelor’s Degree is required for a student to get into a Graduate Program like a Master’s Degree. Unlike an Associate program, acceptance into a Bachelor Program is fierce and often requires an academic demonstration of achievements and clearing standard tests. Although international students (specially Indians) prefer to do a Masters in the US, the number of international applicants for a Bachelor’s Degree in the US is slowly but steadily increasing.

Some of the common Bachelor’s Degrees are -

  • Bachelor of Science (B.S)
  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S)

3. Masters Degree

A Master’s Degree is typically 1-2 years in duration and lets students specialize in a particular area of study. Out of all degrees, competition for a Master’s Degree is the most. It requires a minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores in addition to an undergraduate degree. Most Universities in the US offer Masters Degrees.

With a Master’s Degree, a graduate can find advanced and executive-level jobs. It is also one of the requirements for pursuing Doctoral programs. A Master’s Degree is the most preferred program in the US by international students.

Some of the common Master’s Degrees are

  • Master of Science (M.S)
  • Master of Arts (M.A)
  • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A)

4. Doctoral Degree

Doctoral Degrees are the highest level of college degrees and are also known as Ph.D. programs. They are usually for a period of more than 2 years. In order to complete a Ph.D. program, one should complete a Dissertation and a major research project work. 

Only 1500 universities in the US offer Doctoral Degrees. Ph.D. graduates can work as researchers or professors in universities. Most international students who come to the US to pursue a Master’s Degree move on to do a Ph.D. to widen their knowledge horizons through research.

Some of the Doctoral Degrees are

  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
  • Doctor of Science (S.D)

Types of Universities in the USA

Unlike our home country India, higher education in the US is independent of any Governmental regulations and in turn, provides students with a wide variety of options in choosing a University.

Universities in the USA are of different types, each catering to a specific need and goal. They are categorized based on their size, reputation, specialization, accreditation and so on. 

1. Public or State Universities 

Public Universities, also known as State Universities, are Institutions that are financed predominantly by the state government and sometimes supported by federal grants. These Universities are often grouped into a State University System.

Foreign students pay an out-of-state educational cost, which is regularly higher than that paid by in-state residents. For example, if a student is from Washington, the student will pay a lower fee at a public university in Washington, compared to a student from San Francisco. International students (for example, students from India) pay even more to study in that same University. 

However, educational costs at state-funded colleges are for the most part less than private colleges. Public universities are substantial in size and have a large number of students. 

Below are few public colleges in the United States

2. Private Universities

Private Universities are supported by tuition fees from donors, private donations, and Federal research grants. They usually have a smaller student body, close-knit campus community and are more expensive to attend. However, private colleges generally have better campus facilities on offer (you get what you pay for!). 

Religiously affiliated universities also come under private universities. Though most of these universities accept students of all religions, there are a few institutions that prefer students of similar religious beliefs. 

When it comes to international students, Private Universities provide more funding, mainly need-based scholarships.

Below are a few private colleges in the United States -

3. Ivy League Universities

Many students are amazed to find that the Ivy League is actually a sports conference of eight private universities in the North Eastern United States. As their sports team kept getting popular and attracted more funds, the student admissions became more rigorous and competitive. With numerous institutions established in provincial times, the Ivy League incorporates a portion of the most seasoned and advanced education foundations in the US. 

The Ivy League Universities are some of the most prestigious and aggressive Universities towards confirmations (normal acknowledgment rates are around 10%). These universities have a history of producing high achievers and many Nobel prize winners are part of their alumni.

Ivy League Colleges include 

4. Public Ivy Universities

It is a term coined in the 1980s to depict a group of public or state-funded colleges in the US. Though originally there were 8 Universities which came to be known as Public Ivies, today there are over 30 universities. These universities have earned a reputation in the minds of students for offering equally rigorous and competitive education as the Ivy League. The only difference is that these universities provide the same quality of education at more affordable costs.

The first eight Public Ivies include -

5. The Liberal Arts institutions

The Liberal Arts Institutions mainly focus on undergraduate students, providing them with all the resources and opportunities with an emphasis on both Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students start their degree study by taking classes in a wide assortment of courses. For example, courses like expressions of the human experience, humanities, dialects, and the social sciences, before practicing (majoring) in a different field related to Science and Technology. 

The primary intention of the Liberal Arts Institutions is to groom a well-rounded student with broad skills in both arts and sciences by imparting general knowledge and intellectual capabilities. The focus of the faculty in these institutions will be to teach undergraduates and not involved in their own research. These universities also boast of a healthy student to faculty ratio. 

6. Specialist Institutions

These are colleges and organizations that provide expertise in specified degrees pertaining to a specific field. Some examples are universities like MIT (Massachusetts) and CalTech (California) concentrate on scientific and technological research; Juilliard (NewYork), a center for performing arts; Berklee (Boston), a university known for expertise in music; and SCAD (Georgia), focuses on visual and applied arts. The requirements to enroll in these specialist institutions are generally different from other universities. 

7. Land Grant Universities

These large, public-funded universities are well-known for their programs. The land-grant universities are designated by a state to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. It basically means, these universities are granted federal lands as per the Morrill Acts, for them to sell, to raise funds, to establish and endow “land-grant” colleges.

The land-grant program was started in pursuit of having universities specific to Agriculture, Science, Military Science, and Engineering as a response to the Industrial Revolution. 

Today most land-grant colleges have become public universities, offering a wide range of educational opportunities. That being said, some Land-Grant universities are private universities like MIT and Cornell University. 

8. The Association of American Universities (AAU)

It is a membership association, involving 62 leading research colleges from the US and Canada (60 universities from USA and 2 from Canada). These AAU member universities, together shape policies and promote best practices for higher education and strengthen the contributions of academic research, scholarships, and education.

9. Women’s Colleges

Women Colleges are colleges with a student body comprising of mostly or completely female students. However, most women colleges provide students with an option to register with nearby co-educational colleges and attend classes in both the colleges. 

The main intention of such colleges is to provide a supportive and empowering environment for women. Alumnae of women colleges include many national and global leaders in science, politics and business fields. 

10. Distance Education

Distance education permits both students and professionals to gain a degree or certificate without being physically present at the university. Qualification offerings include high-school diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, and certificate programs. 

A few programs have a set due date for completion, while others permit students to work at their own particular pace under specific rules.

Many US universities have created a competitive but flexible model to cater to a wide number of students through an online medium. Some of the best US universities that provide Distance Education courses are 

11. US Universities Abroad

It is possible to attain an American University education and degree following a US curriculum at an institution located outside the US. Some US universities are beginning to open overseas campuses, and other foreign institutions and universities offering US-style degrees. These types of Universities which are not located in the US, but follow US University rules and curriculum are known as US Universities Abroad. Below are some examples of such Universities

  • American University in Dubai, UAE (AUD)
  • Abu Dhabi University, UAE
  • Hult International Business School, Dubai & London 

12. For-Profit Universities

Almost all the universities in the USA are either public or non-profit universities. However, the last few decades have seen a rise in the number of universities working on the sole purpose of generating profits. These universities are known as For-Profit Universities. These universities function as business ventures with an aim to generate profits for its owners and shareholders. 

Although these universities play a significant role in the US higher education system, many critics have raised their voice on the quality of education and return on investment from such universities. 

It must be overwhelming with the number of university options to select from in the US. Fret not! 

While our advanced ML-based search functionality will provide you with the best-suited universities in the USA and all over the world based on your preferences, Our expert student support team is here to guide you with the right information and knowledge pertaining to study in the US and abroad, all at no cost to you. 

For all those SMART Ubergrads who would let the experts do what they do the best!

Ubergrad.com is a D-I-Y (Do-It-Yourself) study abroad platform that is democratizing the way students APPLY and ENROLL at top universities overseas for graduate studies. You don't need to go to any person/agency for help. You can do it all by yourself from the comfort of your home !!

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