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  • Writer's pictureCortney Dowdle

Two Year Versus Four Year Universities in the USA

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Hey quarantiners,

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy and learning all the things about studying in the USA! Prepare now for tomorrow’s opportunities. This week’s blog is a great follow up to our blog about the school search process.

Students on a university campus
Learn about the benefits of two year and four year universities in the USA!

If you’re undecided as to which type of school is the best fit, then there are definitely a few things you can look at to narrow down your options. I've worked in a variety of education settings in the USA, so I'm excited to share some of the benefits of different types of schools. I have worked for a larger state college, a private university, and a private secondary school.

I’ve talked in the past a lot about “fit” and how important it is to find the right fit when searching for a university in the USA.

When you think about studying abroad, what comes to mind? Do you think about old mossy stone buildings? Big cities and vivid nightlife? Finding somewhere you belong? Belonging somewhere prestigious? Discovering new places around the world? Being a big fish in a small pond? Or mixing into the crowd?

The truth is, any of these things are attainable at a two or four year institution.

We dove into the ways that two and four year schools differ in past blogs, BUT I wanted to highlight some of the benefits of both options. I think there are presumptions about both, so here are my “insider” thoughts after working at these different types of institutions:

Two Year Schools

Also known as community colleges or state schools, these schools are usually public and offer two year degrees, or Associates Degree programs. Two year schools often offer some unique programs. Check out some of the cool things you can study and earn a degree with in only two years:

  • Personal Trainer

  • Interior Designer

  • Web Developer

  • Chef

  • Dental Hygienist

  • Computer Programmer

  • Police Officer

  • Graphic Designer

  • Medical Technician

These are just a few options, but two year programs can often focus on medical, technological, or practical skills sets. In addition, you can study any of the traditional liberal arts, or humanities and science courses in a two year school. You can earn a two year Associates Degree in things like business, English, biology, and on. Students who study the liberal arts at a two year school typically go on to complete their Bachelor’s Degree at a four year institution.


So what are the benefits of a two year school? These are my top reasons why two year schools can rock as a study abroad choice:

  1. Cost – hands down, two year schools are typically much (MUCH) cheaper than four year schools, even if the four year school is also public. Students can save lots of money by spending the first two years in the USA at a two year school and then transferring into a four year school

  2. Difficulty – two-year schools are typically not as difficult as four year schools. In the USA, two year schools have typically catered or been known as “access institutions”, opening up higher education options to minority groups or lower achieving students.


Four Year Schools:

Alright, moving right along, we can talk a bit about four year schools. Four year schools can also be broken down into types like private/public, or big/small, or co-ed/single sex, but in general four year schools in the USA offer some similar things. Four year schools are known for offering the quintessential college experience and catering to students with support services. If you haven’t heard one of the tag-lines I use for The Savvy International, I’ll repeat it here. When it comes to four year schools, if you can dream it, you can achieve it. No joke though. Four year schools in the USA offer limitless options.

You want old stone buildings covered in moss and full of green spaces to spread your books out and study on warm afternoons? Done. Interested in an expansive options of languages, sciences, technology, literature, pre-professional programs, and more? Easy. With literally thousands of options for you in the USA, any program, course, or type of experience you dream about can become a reality. So let’s throw some examples out there.

Four year degree options include:

  • Bachelor’s of Arts – these are going to be your English, arts, social sciences, international relations, and history fields - yes, no matter which subject you study from this list, you will earn a Bachelor’s of Arts

  • Bachelor’s of Science – here is where you will find technology, hard sciences (like biology, chemistry, and physics, to name a few), business, and more - here is where you will earn your Bachelor of Science degree

  • Pre-professional programs – so a fun thing about studying in the USA (I joke) is that if you want to study an advanced degree, like medicine or law (probably the two most popular), you still have to earn one of the two degrees above, and then you would be able to apply to a graduate school that offers a Master’s or PhD in law or medicine. Pre-professional programs are interesting because you may be able to take a few courses that better prepare you for the advanced degree, but you are also responsible for completing all of the requirements for the four year degree that you are majoring in.

*In my experience, the pre-professional “tracks” that you can join in undergraduate four year schools often means that you have a special adviser who helps you stay on track to meet all of the pre-requirements for graduate school.

--> Let’s look at an example, because this stuff can be confusing –

"Maria wants to be a doctor. She has been admitted to a four year university in the USA. She chooses to study a four-year degree for biology. When Maria arrives to university, she meets with her adviser about also being “pre-med” or part of the pre-medical track at the university. Maria learns that she has an adviser who will make sure she completes all of the requirements for her undergraduate degree in biology, but she also has a second adviser who will make sure that she completes all of the prerequisite coursework to apply for medical school after she finishes her four year degree."


Phew. Those pre-professional programs are a lot! But I think it’s important to see what the four year school options are. So let’s check out those benefits for studying a four year degree:

  1. Options – like I saw above, literally anything you want to study for a four year degree in the USA, you can probably find a school that specializes in it

  2. Academic rigor – four year schools (in general, this is a big "in general") are known for more rigorous academics than two-year schools

  3. Scholarships– four-year schools typically have much more extensive scholarship options than two-year schools. *Note – four year schools also typically cost more, so keep that in mind. I recommend keeping a spreadsheet with a list of the schools you are looking at or have been accepted to, list the total cost, then any scholarships received, and then see what the out of pocket (cost to you) expenses would be.

  4. College Experience - four year schools typically offer more of the quintessential "college experience" pieces, like residential housing, crazy sports atmosphere, or extensive clubs and organizations

So there you have it. Those are some of the big benefits of attending either a two-year or four-year school in the USA. This is the perfect time to research your options and figure out what the best fit would be for you in regards to programs, career availability, and profitably in earnings.

Good luck and stay sane in quarantine!


Founder, The Savvy International

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