Investment Glossary – Four-Year College

When I hear the word “college,” I immediately picture John Belushi in his “COLLEGE” sweatshirt from the movie Animal House. I imagine the looks on his fictional parents as they realize that because of his partying, they unfortunately washed seven years of college right down the drain. With the cost of college being as high as it is today, most parents aren’t typically looking to be on the hook for seven years of college for one child. Most parents can’t afford seven years of college for one child. But a valuable exercise as parents and students head into the last couple years of high school is to examine the options available upon graduation, from trade schools to community colleges to four-year colleges. So we’re going to look at what four-year colleges are, what they offer, and what their shortcomings are.

Four-year college are typically accredited by regional accreditation boards that ensure the schools meet minimum standards, as well as helping to ensure that course credits taken at one four-year college typically transfer to other schools in a smooth and efficient process. The regional accreditation process became the norm over the 19th and 20th centuries, with seven different agencies responsible for accrediting schools in their regions. Four-year colleges typically offer Bachelor of Arts (B.A) and Bachelor of Science (B.S) degrees, focused on specific majors, such as English, Chemistry, and Mathematics as examples. Different schools may offer and specialize in different programs, and the strength of faculty and curricula may vary from school to school as well. So a Biology major from one school may receive a very different education than a Biology major at another, though the programs are vetted to ensure they meet the minimum standards specified by the accreditation agencies.

Four-year college are typically run either as private non-profit institutions or state-sponsored public institutions, with public colleges typically being more affordable than private colleges. In addition to deciding on whether to go to a public or private college, choosing whether to live on campus or commute to campus can have a big impact on the overall cost of college. There are also significant financial aid options available at most schools that can help reduce the cost of attending college through the use of loans, grants, work-study programs, and other sources of aid.

What other considerations are there with regards to four-year colleges?

In addition to the tuition and fees listed by college, students also have to make sure they account for the potential cost of room and board, as well as books and other expenses that may be common to college students (120-packs of ramen noodles, Netflix subscriptions, and so forth). Many four-year colleges also allow transfer credits from community colleges, which permits students to complete some of their studies at community colleges before transferring to a four-year college, potentially saving a significant amount of money in the process.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for going to college. Four-year colleges offer one path to becoming credentialed and gaining the knowledge needed to hold a job after graduation. It isn’t the only path to doing either of these things. It is not the best option for everyone. And each individual student’s situation must be considered when trying to determine if college is a good investment or not. A college education is one way for young adults to prepare themselves for the rigors of the workplace, but a thorough consideration of what you are getting compared to what you are paying is needed to figure out what the best path is for any student. It may not mean forgoing college completely, but rather looking at other options that may be cheaper, offer greater financial aid, or have specific programs that a student is looking to target in their studies. But the universe of possibilities for college is really, really big, and by asking some questions about what is important for a specific student, people are usually able to find the right fit after taking some time to work through the process thoroughly.