In America, there are many types of colleges, each with distinct characteristics. The three main types are public universities, private institutions, and community colleges. In this section, we will explore each college type’s advantages and disadvantages, and the general information regarding financial aid to international students.

Public Universities

Many international students will recognize the names of UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Georgia Tech. These types of colleges are public universities that are funded by the government. Some public universities feature honors colleges which are special programs to attract high-achieving students.

Check also: Available Programs for International Students

Pros of Public Universities

  1. Large student bodyTotal enrollment of public universities is usually 10,000 to 50,000 students. There is also a large population of international students in many public universities.
  2. Variety of majorsBecause of the large number of students, public universities tend to offer a variety of majors, and even uncommon majors such as paleontology and dance are offered.
  3. High Acceptance Rate– Typically, acceptance rates of public universities are much higher than those of private universities.

Cons of Public Universities

  1. Large class size and limited interaction between students and professors. Some classes are taught in large lecture halls with hundreds of other students. The large class size could hinder attentiveness and class discussions.
  2. Graduate Assistants– As part of the work-study program, many classes are taught by graduate assistants, who are less qualified than professors.
  3. Limited Financial Aid– Generally, public universities offer little to no financial aid to international students.

Honors College

Some public universities offer a specialized program called honors college. Honors colleges differ greatly in different universities, but some common advantages of enrolling in honors colleges are early course registration, small class size, dedicated faculty, and housing with other honors students. Some honors colleges even let you start your medical or law careers early.

General Financial Info of Public Universities.

Because public universities are funded by taxes, public universities offer little to no financial aid to international students, but there are few exceptions. For example, the University of Alabama offers automatic full-tuition scholarships to any student with a GPA of 3.5 and 32-36 ACT and 1450-1600 SAT. Other automatic full-tuition and full-ride (tuition, room, and board) scholarships are listed in Since this site is for only United States citizens, international students need to contact individual colleges to find if the scholarship applies to them.

Private Institutions

Private institutions are funded by tuition, endowment, and various gifts from alumni and individuals. Private institutions can be grouped into two categories: private universities and liberal arts colleges.

Private Universities

Private universities are the most famous type of colleges in America. These include the Ivy Leagues, Notre Dame, and Caltech. Typically, total enrollment in private universities is 4,000-10,000 students.

Pros of Private Universities

  1. Small student body- Private universities have a smaller student body and quieter atmospheres than public universities.
  2. Small class size and active interaction between students and professors- Because private universities typically have a small student-faculty ratio and class size, private universities encourage class discussion and building strong relationships between the students and the professors.
  3. Name Recognition- The names of some private universities are easily recognized.
  4. Generous Financial Aid- Private universities offer generous financial aid even to international students.

Cons of Private Universities

  1. Limited Majors- Because of the small number of students, private universities often offer limited majors.
  2. Very Expensive without Financial AidWithout any financial aid, private universities are difficult to attend because the cost of attendance is usually over $50,000 per year.
  3. Difficult to get into- The admission rates of private universities are much lower than those of public universities.

General Financial Information of Private Universities

To many students, the word “private” indicates a ridiculous amount of money. Although that is partially true, there is much financial aid available for international students in private universities. Some private universities offer financial aid to international students for up to the full cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, books, travel expenses), and many private universities offer financial aid for up to full tuition to international students. For detailed information about financial aid, please visit this financial aid article.

Liberal Arts Colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges are another type of college in America. To international students, Liberal Arts College is the most unfamiliar type of college. Most international students and even domestic students have never heard of Williams College, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, and Pomona College, which are the best-ranked liberal arts colleges. In my opinion, Liberal Arts Colleges are as good as the Ivy League, if not better.

Two main advantages of Liberal Arts Colleges are their focus on undergraduate students and their emphasis on writing and critical thinking skills. Most Liberal Arts Colleges do not offer any graduate programs, and some that do only offer graduate programs for a couple of majors. Because of the lack of graduate programs, professors in Liberal Arts Colleges have more time for undergraduate students and for lesson preparations. Not only do Liberal Arts College focus on undergraduate students, but they also emphasize writing and critical thinking skills. In Liberal Arts Colleges, students are expected to write many essays, debate, and engage in class discussions not only in English classes but also in all other classes. Besides the focus on the undergraduate students and the emphasis on communication skills, there are many other advantages of attending a Liberal Arts College.

Pros of Liberal Arts College

  1. Very Small Student Body- Liberal Arts College is very small with a student body of 1,600-2,500 typically. The small student body fosters a closely knit and friendly community.
  2. No Graduate ProgramLack of graduate programs allows for classes to be taught by actual professors, and not by the graduate assistants.
  3. Small class size and interaction between students and professors- Because Liberal Arts Colleges have a small student-faculty ratio and class size, they encourage class discussion and strong relationships between students and professors.
  4. Generous Financial Aid- Liberal Arts College offers generous financial aid even to international students.

Cons of Liberal Arts College

  1. Limited Majors- Because of Liberal Arts Colleges’ small size, they offer limited majors. Uncommon majors such as paleontology or nuclear engineering are often not available. Most Liberal Arts Colleges do not offer engineering programs, but some do offer strong engineering programs.
  2. Very Expensive without Financial Aid- Without any financial aid, Liberal Arts Colleges are difficult to attend because the cost of attendance is usually over $50,000 per year.
  3. Location- Many Liberal Arts colleges such as Williams, Grinnell, and Kenyon are located in small towns with populations of less than 10,000, but some liberal arts colleges are located beside big cities.
  4. Name Recognition- Many people do not recognize the names of Liberal Arts Colleges.
  5.  Difficult to get into- Liberal Art Colleges are generally much harder to be admitted to than Public Universities. 

General Financial Information of Liberal Arts Colleges

Look at General Financial Information of Private Universities.

Community Colleges

Another type of college is Community Colleges whose main purpose is to provide an education to everyone. As the result, community colleges accept almost anyone who turns in the application. Most community colleges offer only associate degrees (2-year degrees), but you can easily transfer to a university after receiving an associate degree to get a bachelor’s degree (4-year degree).

Pros of Community Colleges

  1. Very Easy to be Admitted Community Colleges basically accept everybody and do not usually require SAT scores, TOEFL scores, and other application materials that are required by other universities.
  2. Cheap- Compared to other institutions, the total cost of attendance (tuition, room, board, transportation, books) in community colleges is cheap. The total cost of attendance in community colleges is around $20,000 per year. 
  3. Offers Good ESL ProgramSince community colleges accept many international students, community colleges tend to offer good ESL programs. If you are not proficient in English, you might want to enroll in community colleges to improve your GPA and transfer to state universities once you have become proficient in English.
  4. Transfer Admission Guarantee Since most community colleges only offer associate degrees (2-year degrees), you can transfer to a state university after you have received an associate degree to earn a bachelor’s degree (4-year degree). Many community colleges have transfer agreements with state universities which would automatically transfer you if you meet certain criteria. For example, six Universities of California (Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz) offer a guaranteed transfer if you meet certain requirements (GPA and the number of transferable credits).

Cons of Community Colleges

  1. Low Academic Reputation- Community Colleges are not known for providing the best education, a problem which could be solved by transferring to a state university.
  2. Limited majors- Community colleges do not offer many majors.
  3. HousingMost community colleges do not provide housing. If you choose to attend a community college, you need to live outside the campus in most cases.
  4. No Financial Aid- Community Colleges do not award financial aid to international students. If they do, the amount of financial aid is very small.

General Financial Information of Community Colleges

Community Colleges generally do not offer any scholarships to international students. However, they are a relatively cheap way to receive a US college education, and students have an option of transferring to state universities afterward.


We hope that this article on Different Types of Colleges and Financial Aid was helpful. For more information on studying abroad, make sure to check out the Available Programs for International Students!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hyun is the founder at Global Scholarships. He has received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College as well as $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for his undergraduate degree and has been offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. Read more about his scholarship journey here.

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