The school you choose needs to fit your interests, career goals, your financial situation and other factors (see the Find the Right Fit section below). Schools fall into these basic types:

  • Public versus private. Public schools are operated by state and local governments. Tuition is often less at a public school. Private schools are not affiliated with a government organization. They may be non-profit, such as colleges run by private foundations or religious denominations. Or, they may be for-profit businesses, such as many career, trade or technical schools.
  • Four-year colleges and universities. These can offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, and sometimes include professional schools, like law school or medical school. Universities tend to be larger than colleges.
  • Two-year community and junior colleges. These offer two-year associate degrees and sometimes certifications in particular career fields, like nursing. Because their costs are often lower and admission is more open, many students start their college careers here.
  • Career, technical, vocational or trade schools. These prepare students for specific careers, such as welding, cosmetology, medical imaging and electronics assembly. Their programs may be two years or less. Many of these schools are for-profit businesses. Do lots of research to make sure they can deliver what they promise.

No matter what kind of school you choose, it is important to make sure the school is accredited (see Factors to Consider, below). It is also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau closest to where the school is located.