You're going to college in a year or two. Congratulations! But what does that "going to college" really mean? What kind of college is in your future? Where will you end up?
Although people use the term "college" to mean any kind of education beyond high school, college actually has several very specific -- and somewhat confusing -- meanings, especially if you're a first-generation student.
To help you make sense of all this, let's look at the three most common things called "colleges" that you'll run into during the application process.
Some years ago, community colleges offered job-focused training to help high school graduates and career-changing adults. How things changed since then. Now these schools offer an array of associate degrees (2-year degrees) and sometimes 4-year bachelor’s degrees. Still, the degrees typically center on topics designed to help people get entry-level jobs in business or hands-on fields like HVAC technology or electronics repair.
Some prospective college students feel unsure about what they want to do in the future. That's where community colleges fit. Those students can start their college experience in their hometown at a community college. After they gain some life experience and take a few general courses, they often transfer to to a more traditional 4-year college or university. The beauty of community colleges in Indiana is that basic courses typically transfer to other institutions in the the state without any problems.
Private colleges and universities rely on their own sources of money instead of being funded by the state government. Privately funded schools range from famous Ivy League institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford to smaller local ones.
Private schools typically cost much, much more than public universities (more about that in a moment), plus they hold very high academic standards which make them hard to get into. If attending a private school is your dream, give it a try even if you think you can't afford it. Many private schools offer generous scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards funded by donor gifts. If your high school grades and activities look super-strong and you like the idea of a potential scholarship, check out a few private colleges to see what they can offer.
“Traditional” Four-Year University
When most people think "college," they see a public university in their minds. These schools offer 4-year bachelor’s degrees in a wide range of fields. They frequently have master’s degree programs (the advanced degree you might get after completing a bachelor's) as well. The most elite schools also have doctoral degree programs for people wanting to dig deeply into very specialized areas of learning.
Start Putting Your Plan Together
Now you know one type of school from another, it's time to get going. For help launching your application action plan, download our ultimate college decision timeline. It'll help you stay on track and get into the college of your dreams!