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Four-Year or Two-Year College: Which is Right for You?

Feb 7, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 3 Comments

A bachelor’s degree is almost seen as mandatory to enter the job force these days. But not every career requires one—and four-year institutions aren’t right for every student. In addition, two-year colleges can save you significant tuition costs—with yearly average costs of $2,713 according to The College Board, compared to $7,605 for four-year in-state colleges, $11,990 for out-of-state colleges and $27,293 for private schools. There are significant advantages to attending a two-year college instead—if you’re the right kind of student. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of two-year colleges and four-year colleges.

Two-Year Colleges: The Pros and Cons

There are two types of students at two-year institutions. The first type is looking to enter the job force sooner—and only needs an Associate’s degree or professional certification to get started. For students looking to enter careers that don’t require a four-year degree, a two-year degree will get them started in the job force much sooner than a Bachelor’s—and they can earn a Bachelor’s later if they wish, possibly with the financial support of their employer.

Medical Student

Overall, a four-year degree gives you more career options. But attending a two-year college can be a stepping stone.



The second type of student at two-year colleges is planning to earn a Bachelor’s degree—but wants to save money on tuition. These students attend two-year colleges, graduate, and then transfer their credits to a four-year institution. At the end, they graduate with the same degree as a student who spent all four years at that school—but with a significant break in tuition costs.

This is also a good option for students who didn’t earn competitive grades in high school—and who want to use these two years to build up their academic record. Many two-year institutions have less rigorous admissions requirements than four-year schools, and can be the perfect place for less academically competitive students to improve their candidacy for a four-year school.

Four-Year Colleges: Benefits and Drawbacks

Four-year colleges are generally considered an investment in a student’s future. They cost significantly more than two-year schools, and they take at least twice as long to grant a degree. But you won’t find the academic and extracurricular opportunities you’ll get at a four-year college in any other type of institution.

Most students who attend four-year colleges are looking for a well-rounded education. These schools are not designed to prepare students for specific jobs—although a Bachelor’s degree is an entry-level requirement in many fields. They provide a broad education in the humanities and sciences that focuses on one area of study as students progress through their major. Students can usually take electives in any area of study, so a math major can pursue his passion for music and a Creative Writing major can explore the fundamentals of biology. Instead of the job-focused approach, four-year universities give students
room to explore.

The cost of a four-year institution, however, can be difficult for many families to manage—even with financial aid. If you attend a four-year school, you’ll be more likely to have a large student debt load when you graduate. However, you’ll also have a degree that’s considered a minimum requirement for a wider range of fields than you’d have access to with only a two-year degree—and some of those fields can pay very well.

Overall, a four-year degree  gives you more career options. But attending a two-year college can be a stepping stone to a four-year degree—or it can grant you entry into a field that doesn’t require one. If you’re focused on a career that you know doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree, a two-year degree program may be ideal for you. And if you know you need one but you haven’t had success in gaining admission to a four-year program, a two-year college could be the perfect place to improve your candidacy.  Know what you want to get out of college and how it fits into your career path, and you’ll be able to decide whether a two-year or four-year college is right for you.


M Lichty15 Over a year ago

I attended a four-year college and am very happy that I did. I graduated with a major in Communications, which was very broad. I have had three jobs since I graduated. Having a four-year degree was required for two of them. I took advantage of the clubs on campus and joined the Advertising and Marketing Club. Being a member of (ADMAR) gave me excellent marketing experience. Ultimately, I decided to go into the Internet Marketing field, and taking advantage of the clubs on campus helped open my eyes to the field.

Lmariehemphill Over a year ago

Great introduction article for my students to read. The author gives simply easy to understand explanation of the difference between four year and two institutions. As my high school freshmen start preparations for life after high school, this will become required reading in my classroom. Awesome Job!

alli Over a year ago

I attended a 2 year college that prepared me for my 4 year college. Was able to get almost all my core courses done at the 2 year school and then was able to focus on my current degree of choose in the 4 year school.

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