You may be surprised by the number of unfamiliar terms associated with college and college life. Undergraduate, TA, accreditation, Greek life, the FAFSA—high school counselors and college admissions officers use these terms every day. Unfortunately, they don’t always stop to explain what each term means.
The “College Speak” series explains the college-oriented vocab that you need to be in the know and focus on the more important questions, such as “which school would be the best fit for me?”
Today’s terms are:
- public and private;
- community or junior college.
Public and Private: Public post-secondary schools are usually operated by a state or local government (or both) and supported by money collected through taxes. Private post-secondary schools are operated as nonprofit organizations. They generally need to receive more money from their students in order to operate, though not all of their students pay full price.
“State” colleges and universities are public schools that offer a relatively low-cost education to residents of the state in which they are located. You’re probably well-acquainted with your state’s big universities. (Roll Tide.) A catch with these schools is that they’re only a lower-cost option for state residents. If you’re from out of state, these schools will charge much more money for you to attend, sometimes as much as the full price of a private college or university.
Another public post-secondary school with which you’re likely to be familiar is your local community college (see below). It would cost you even less to attend a community college than it would to attend a “state” school in your home state.
Private colleges and universities include some of the most well-known and difficult-to-get-into schools in the country. Harvard College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Stanford University are some private institutions of which you may have heard.
Community or Junior College: A community college is a public undergraduate school that offers a very low-cost education close to home for residents of a particular city or county.
Community colleges typically offer many departments and programs in which you may receive an associate's degree or a certificate. An associate degree can usually be completed with two-years of full-time study, so community colleges are often called “two-year schools.”
Some community colleges offer bachelor's degrees, but most will require you to transfer to a “four-year” undergraduate school if you want to receive a bachelor’s.
Many community colleges are affiliated with certain four-year schools to make sure that their graduates may transfer smoothly (i.e., with out the loss of credits) to those schools. Often, a degree at one community college will satisfy most, or even all, of the core curriculum at specified four-year schools.
Community colleges usually try to serve all students who wish to attend—they offer remedial education courses for high school students who are not ready for college-level work.
Community colleges were originally called junior colleges; today, the term junior college usually refers to a private institution that offers an education that is similar in scope to a community college education.