Choosing a School: Two-year colleges in the US

Apr 2024

12 Minute Read

Tagged as: Choosing a School/Program

Discussion of different types of universities in the US, what two-year schools are, and their basic hallmarks, and transfer strategy

Choosing a college can be a time of great stress.  Many feel their entire future rests on this one decision.  You might think your future career, not just the next four years of your life and a great deal of money, rests on this decision.  Parents, relatives, friends are seem to have an opinion on where you should go to school.  A plethora of books and magazines publicize college rankings and make you feel like you should attend whichever school is ranked highest on the list.

In order to reduce the stress in selecting a college, consider adopting the following slogan, "College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won." Finding a good fit requires time and thoughtfulness.  Because your friends are going there or because of where it ranks on a list does not take into account who you are and who you will become. The most important factor in choosing a school is finding a place where you can flourish and grow.

Knowing the Types of Schools

The variations found in American institutions of higher education are almost endless, but an introduction to the most common types of universities talked about in the US can help you find the best fit for you.

  • "Elite"
  • State
  • Liberal Arts
  • Two-year

Two-Year Schools

More than 10 million students (over half of all undergraduates) in America attend community and technical colleges.  Some students are strictly interested in taking classes, rather than living in a dorm, attending a bowl game, or joining a club.  Other students go to get started in careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, including high-paying jobs in computer science and health.  Alternatively, some students don’t want to pay a small fortune to earn a degree, so they attend a community college with the intention of eventually transferring to a four-year college or university. There are two many types of two-year schools.

Community Colleges

Community colleges (or junior colleges, as they are sometimes called) primarily offer two-year associates of arts (AA) and associates of applied science (AAS) degrees in a wide variety of fields.  Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, for example, has departments in liberal arts, engineering, and even fine arts and performing arts, similar to a four-year college or university.  Many community colleges are similar to four-year colleges in non-academic ways as well, with extensive student activities programs.  Some community colleges also have terrific intercollegiate athletic programs, with many athletes eventually going on to star at major NCAA programs during their junior and senior years.

Technical Colleges

Technical colleges focus primarily on providing students with a specific skill, primarily offering associate of technical arts (ATA) and associate of applied science (AAS) degrees. These colleges offer a diverse range of programs—anything from degrees in automotive repair to Web development.  In general, technical schools specialize in training students to enter the workforce, as opposed to pursuing a four-year degree.

Debunking the myths about two-year schools

There seems to be a stereotype of sorts about students who choose two-year schools to start. It essentially says that students at two-year schools do not have what it takes to succeed at a four-year school. Because of this, people think that choosing a two-year school means that they have failed somehow.

However, this could not be further from the truth, especially for international students. If your definite plan is to transfer to a university within two years, this is even better.

Particularly for students who are either a) not sure about what career they ultimately want, who want to get ahead after high school, or b) need some more time to become competitive candidates for their dream university, two-year schools (or a gap year) are an excellent option to start. Many international students can and do benefit from additional time to gain English language skills and satisfy general studies requirements at a two-year school.

The two-year college option is not well known outside of the States because of how, well, American it is. However, many two-year schools have better support for international students than universities, which is why this is an option that needs to be discussed more.

Features of Two-Year Schools

Not necessarily small

You might assume that the largest schools in the country are the aforementioned public universities. After all, the University of Texas and Ohio State University both enroll more than 50,000 students. But the largest college in the nation is actually a two-year school, Miami-Dade Community College, with an enrollment of over 160,000 students.

Acceptance Rates

Two-year colleges admit the majority of applicants.  Typically, all you will need is your high school diploma or GED.  Community and technical colleges generally administer assessment tests instead of requiring the ACT or SAT, but these tests are used for class placement only and do not determine admission.

If you think a two-year school is right for you to start out, you still should take the ACT or SAT to guarantee a competitive application. The good news here is this: if you attend a two-year school, you can absolutely take the SAT or ACT during your time there if you are not happy with your high school scores.

Affordable and Diverse

Two-year schools, especially public community and technical colleges, have extremely diverse student bodies, and charge significantly less tuition than even public four-year colleges.

A Different Type of "Student Experience"

Many of these colleges are "commuter schools," meaning that students live off-campus on their own or with family. They rarely offer student housing,1 and you won’t find the extensive student services that are typical of most universities. This is not true of all schools, though, particularly in states with smaller populations.

Transfer Strategy with Two-Year Schools

Although degrees from technical and community colleges can be transferred to four-year colleges and universities, there are some caveats.  It is practically impossible to transfer to a highly competitive elite college from a two-year college.  Additionally, even if you are admitted to a less selective university, it may not accept all of your college credits (2 years of technical or community college might equal 1 year of a 4-year university).

If your intention is to transfer from a two-year to a four-year school, the best option is often a community college or technical school with articulation agreements. Articulation agreements are contracts between two- and four-year schools that specify which degrees and credits will transfer when you pursue your bachelor’s degree. The best articulation agreements allow students to transfer all of their credits.

For more information on other types of schools, check out some of our other posts:


  1. If your student is considering a two-year school to start and housing is a concern, Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of community colleges in the US that offer student housing. 

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