Types of Colleges

What's the difference between a UC and a CalState? Where do community colleges fit in? What about private schools? It can be very confusing trying to make sense of it all when you first start looking at colleges. Here is a quick breakdown of the four college systems you will find in California:

Community Colleges

Community colleges are for anyone who wants to learn something new after (or even during) high school. Some things to know about them are:

  • You don't have to worry about being accepted. You fill out the application, pay for your classes, and go
  • They are usually inexpensive
  • They are great for adults who want to learn a new skill, computer program, language, or just about anything else for work, recreation, or personal enjoyment
  • You can take classes or programs to become qualified for new careers
  • High school students go for free (but you do have to pay for your own books and a small fee). You can re-take classes you failed at your high school or take ones your school doesn't offer, with your school's permission
  • You can earn an Associate's Degree. This is a two-year degree and is not what people are usually talking about when they mention a college degree
  • You can save money by going to a community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year college for the last two years

There are some downsides to community college, however. Few have dorms, so students usually live at home or in apartments on their own. This can be very different from the "typical" college experience of going away to school. If you are planning on transferring to a four-year college, you save money but will probably enter your transfer school with a smaller social network than the people who have been there while you were at community college. This is not to say that going to a community college and transferring is not a good idea, just that there are trade-offs and things to consider.


California State Colleges ("Cal States" and "CSU's")

California has two systems of publicly funded, four-year universities. The first is the state college system.

  • Cal States are a little cheaper than UC's
  • Their GPA and test score requirements are lower than UC's, although the classes you have to take to be eligible are pretty much the same. A few top Cal States can be just as hard to get into as a UC, though
  • They tend to be fairly "hands on" and oriented towards preparing you for a career
  • You can earn a Bachelor's Degree (BA or BS), which is a four-year degree and what most people mean when they talk about a college degree
  • You can also earn a Master's Degree (MA or MS) in many fields from a Cal State, as well as some professional certifications such as a teacher's credential

University of California ("UC's")

 The other public university system in California is the University of California system.

  • UC's cost a little more than Cal States but are still typically much cheaper than private schools
  • Entrance requirements such as for GPA, test scores, and activities are high and can be extremely high for top UC's
  • UC's tend to emphasize research and theory. Many UC professors are among the top researchers in their field in the world
  • You can earn a Bachelor's Degree (BA or BS), which is a four-year degree and what most people mean when they are talking about a college degree
  • You can also earn a Master's Degree (MA or MS) or a Doctorate (Ph.d) at a UC as well as some professional certifications such as a teacher's credential


Private Colleges

Private colleges are any institution of higher education that is not publicly funded. This can range from online schools to art or culinary schools all the way up to world-class universities that are the equal of any UC.

  • Generally cost more than public colleges and universities
  • May have enough financial aid to make actual cost of attendance competitive with public schools
  • Some offer only job training or certificates while others offer bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees
  • Entrance requirements may be on par with public institutions or may be easier or even tougher than some public universities
  • May be dedicated to a certain field of study or training, or they may be affiliated with a specific religion