Four Year Colleges and Universities

What Is a College or University?

A 4 year college or university is an institution of higher education. In the United States, colleges and universities are accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency. They offer a range of educational degrees, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. With the ever evolving landscape of higher education, some colleges and universities have even started offering alternative education programs such as boot camps and credentialing-style programs.

What’s the Difference Between a College and a University?

The primary difference between a college and a university lies in their size, scope of programs offered, and often their focus. Colleges tend to be smaller institutions focusing on undergraduate education in a broad or specific field of study. In contrast, universities are larger institutions offering a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, often including research opportunities. This distinction, however, can vary based on the country and specific institution.

College and University Accreditation

Accreditation is a critical process for colleges and universities, ensuring the quality and credibility of their programs. It varies between institutions, with colleges and universities adhering to different standards and types of accreditation, like regional or national. This subsection will explain these differences and the importance of accreditation in higher education.

Benefits of a 4-Year College Degree

Pursuing a 4-year college degree opens up numerous advantages, including broader career choices, potential for higher earnings, and a more comprehensive educational experience. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that individuals with a bachelor’s degree generally have higher earnings and lower unemployment rates compared to those with only a high school diploma. The median weekly earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree are significantly higher than for high school graduates. Additionally, the unemployment rate for individuals with a bachelor’s degree is notably lower than for those with just a high school education. 

Attaining a college degree offers several benefits beyond career and financial aspects. College provides opportunities for personal growth, fostering independence, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Higher education environments also offer vast networking opportunities with peers, faculty, and industry professionals, which can be valuable throughout one’s life. Perhaps most importantly, college exposes students to diverse ideas, cultures, and viewpoints, enhancing cultural awareness and empathy.

What Is a Four Year College?

A four-year college or university is an institution that grants bachelor’s degrees, and can also offer associate degrees, master’s degrees, and in some cases, doctoral degree programs. While most colleges and universities are four-year institutions, some offer both two-year programs and four-year programs.

How Much Do 4-Year Colleges and Universities Cost?

The cost of attending 4-year colleges and universities varies greatly. Each of the following factors can play a role in determining the overall financial requirement for college:

  • Tuition Fees: The primary component of college costs, with significant variations between public and private institutions. Public colleges typically offer lower rates for in-state students compared to out-of-state or private college attendees.
  • Room and Board: A major expense for those living on campus, covering accommodation and meals.
  • Textbooks and Supplies: Costs for academic materials, including textbooks, lab equipment, and other necessary supplies.
  • College Fees: Charges for facilities, technology, student activities, and other institutional services.
  • Travel Expenses: For students attending college away from home, costs for commuting and periodic travel to visit family.
  • Field of Study: Some programs, like engineering or medicine, may incur higher costs due to specialized equipment or intensive training requirements.
  • Program Duration: Extended study periods due to part-time enrollment or changing majors can increase the total cost of a college education.

For the academic year 2021–22, public institutions averaged $9,700 in tuition and fees, private for-profit institutions averaged $17,800, and private nonprofit institutions averaged $38,800, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The average total cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room, and board, was different based on the control of the institution and the student’s living arrangement.

For example, the average total cost for first-time, full-time undergraduate students living on campus at private nonprofit 4-year institutions was $55,800, compared to $32,900 at private for-profit and $26,000 at public institutions.

Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Other Ways to Pay for College

Be sure to explore the following options when considering the financial aspects of attending a college or university.

  • Grants come from various sources like the federal government, states, and colleges. They don’t require repayment, making them a primary target for aid.
  • Student loans, either federal or private, are borrowed money that must be repaid with interest. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans.
  • Scholarships are awarded for academic achievement, talents, or other criteria and don’t need to be repaid. They can come from colleges, private organizations, or community groups.
  • Work-Study programs allow you to work part-time while studying, helping to cover education costs. They’re usually need-based and can provide valuable work experience.

Some employers offer tuition assistance as a job benefit, and local community organizations often provide scholarships to residents. These options are also worth exploring for extra funding.

FAFSA: Your Gateway to Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that determines your eligibility for financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study. Here’s how to apply:

  1. Gather Necessary Documents: You’ll need your Social Security Number, federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned.
  2. Create an Account: Visit the FAFSA website and create a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) to submit your form.
  3. Complete the Application: Fill in your personal and financial information. Be thorough and accurate.
  4. Review and Submit: Double-check your information for accuracy and submit your FAFSA.
  5. Follow Up: Check your email for updates and provide any additional information if requested.

Completing the FAFSA is a critical step in accessing various forms of financial aid for college.

Time Requirements for 4-Year Colleges and Universities

Despite the name, you’re not required to complete your undergraduate degree in four years. In many cases, students will extend their bachelor’s degree to a five-year program or take online classes or summer school classes to complete their degree in less than four years.

Students at 4-year colleges and universities are eligible to earn a bachelor’s degree after the completion of 120 to 130 academic credits. Students with an associate degree can usually transfer a portion of these credits toward their bachelor’s degree.

How do Transfer Credits Work?

Many 4-year colleges and universities allow for transfer credits to count towards degree completion. College degree credits are generally awarded for completed courses with a C- or better.

There are also many bachelor’s degrees that can be earned in as little as three years by attending summer sessions or part-time enrollment. Some students also have AP credits, which shortens the time needed to complete a degree.

Is a 4-year college or university for you?

If you’re looking for the traditional college experience you see in movies, a 4-year school is the place for you. Here are some of the reasons that students choose 4-year colleges and universities:

To receive a well-rounded education.

  • At the undergraduate level, colleges, and universities require that students take courses in a number of areas to help them figure out what areas of study are best for them, as well as to provide a broad base of academic knowledge.

To be on the right path to your target career.

  • Look at job listings for entry-level positions, and you’ll find that many require a bachelor’s degree. Completing a degree at a 4-year college or university will give you the academic skills you need to be ready for the demands of your job.

To make more money.

  • Studies have shown that employees who have graduated from 4-year colleges and universities tend to earn more money than students with associate degrees or high school diplomas.

To prepare for graduate school.

  • If you’re planning to continue your education with a master’s degree, attending a 4-year college or university will help prepare you academically for that degree. Also, attending a school that also offers graduate programs allows you to learn more about those programs before you enroll.

What types of students attend 4-year colleges and universities?

The types of students you’re likely to find at a college or university depends in part on the type of school it is. Some schools are single-sex, and some are geared to a type of student, such as historically black schools or colleges with students who are active in the military.

The types of programs the college or university specializes in will also affect the demographics of the student body; schools that are highly regarded for disciplines like healthcare or engineering will draw a different type of student than those that specialize in creative areas, like culinary, music or art and design.

While many students at 4-year colleges are fresh out of high school, you’ll find people of all ages at these schools. Some people may return to school to complete their bachelor’s degree after taking a break to start a career or a family. Others may have completed an associate degree and are transferring their credits to the 4-year college in order to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Common Majors at Four Year Colleges

It can be tough to choose a college major! You may not need to decide on a major right away, thankfully. Many colleges allow you to spend your first year of study taking general courses, allowing you to learn more about your interests and narrow down potential majors over time.

There are hundreds of different college majors. Common majors at four year colleges include:

  • Accounting
  • Anthropology
  • Biology and biotechnology
  • Business
  • Communication
  • Computer and information science   
  • Criminology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Environmental science
  • Finance
  • Health sciences
  • History
  • Journalism
  • Marketing
  • Management information systems
  • Performing arts
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Sports medicine
  • Visual arts

Common Careers for Graduates with 4-Year College Degrees

Graduates with 4-year college degrees have a wide array of career options across diverse fields. While there are vast number of careers for college graduates, here are a few common career paths:

  • Business Management: Involves overseeing operations, managing teams, and driving business strategies.
  • Engineering: Engineers apply scientific principles to design, develop, and improve structures, machines, or systems.
  • Healthcare: This sector includes roles like registered nurses and healthcare administrators.
  • Information Technology: IT professionals manage data, software development, and network security.
  • Education: Teachers and educators play a key role in shaping future generations.

While these examples represent popular choices, they barely scratch the surface of career opportunities available to degree holders.

Can You Work and Attend 4 Year Colleges at the Same Time?

In a word: Yes! Many college students work a full-time or part-time job while attending school. If you plan to work while you attend school, it’s smart to have a conversation with your academic advisor about the best way to set up your schedule so you’re able to devote the necessary time to coursework and attending class. Your school may offer work-study programs that allow you to offset the cost of your tuition by working a few hours each week in a field related to your major.

Should you complete a degree program online?

Online schools and online degree programs in particular are gaining in popularity, especially for people who want to continue their education but can’t make time in their schedules to enroll full-time in daytime classes at a 4-year college or university. Online programs may also offer you financial savings, as you won’t have to pay room and board at a campus and the school doesn’t have to maintain a large campus of classrooms. Increased flexibility in scheduling classes is another reason some students choose to attend an online college or program.

How do you narrow down your choices of 4-year colleges and universities?

First, you’ll want to determine what type of 4-year college you’re seeking. Public colleges and universities tend to be larger and less expensive than private colleges, especially if you’re applying as an in-state student.

If you’re interested in learning about a variety of subjects, including history, political science, English and a foreign language, you may want to focus on liberal arts colleges, which require you to study a range of disciplines while you pursue your major.

On the other hand, if you know the type of skill or trade you want to learn, consider a career college, also known as a vocational school or trade school. These schools will offer general academic education as well as career-specific education.

The type of degree you’re seeking and the programs you’re interested in studying will also help determine the colleges and universities you apply to. Plus, if you’re interested in taking online courses, consider an online degree program or find out if the schools you’re interested in offer online courses.

Choosing Your Degree Type

Not sure if you’re ready to commit to a 4-year college or university? If you’re not sure what you want to study or if you have doubts about your ability to pay for and complete a bachelor’s degree program, consider applying for an associate degree. In some cases, you will be able to transfer your credits toward a bachelor’s degree program if you choose to continue your education at a 4-year college.

Location Matters

As you begin your college search, one of the first things you will be asked is what city or state you want to attend school in. While it may seem like a simple question, when deciding where to go, there are many different factors that play into this decision. Some students prefer going to school in their home state while others are looking for more diversity and choose schools in bigger cities.

While some people have certain areas they would never consider living or studying in, others don’t care where they end up as long as it is close enough for them to come home on the weekends. The most important thing about choosing which city or state you attend college in is finding the place that makes you happy and feels like home! Check out our detailed lists below to help you decide your path.

4-Year Colleges and Universities FAQ

Is a 4-Year college degree worth it?

Yes, many people find that a degree is worth their investment of time and money. It often leads to better job prospects, higher earning potential, and a broader skill set.

What’s the difference between a public and a private college?

Public colleges are state-funded and often more affordable, while private colleges are funded through tuition fees and donations, typically costing more.

Can I attend a 4-year college entirely online?

Yes, many colleges offer fully online 4-year degree programs.

What’s the best way to determine if a college is right for me?

Consider factors like programs offered, location, campus culture, and cost.

Is a 4-year university better than a 4-year college?

It depends on your educational and career goals; universities often offer more research opportunities and advanced degree programs.

What’s the difference between a research university and a teaching university?

Research universities focus heavily on research and often have larger class sizes, whereas teaching universities prioritize undergraduate education with more classroom interaction.

How do I apply for financial aid?

Start by filling out the FAFSA and researching scholarships, grants, and loan options.

What are the benefits of living on campus?

On-campus living can enhance your college experience with convenient access to resources and social opportunities.

Can I work while attending college?

Yes, many students work part-time jobs or participate in work-study programs.

Are internships important in college?

Internships provide practical experience and networking opportunities, enhancing your employability after graduation.

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