3,500 Colleges! Which One Is For You?

Creating a college list can be a challenge. The first step is to understand the variety of college experiences available.

What Kind of College is Your Kind of College?

There are more than 3,500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States. Thus, there is incredible diversity and opportunity available to students seeking a college degree. However, there are distinct catagories that a prospective student should be aware of as he or she creates a college list. It is important to understand the mission, culture and characteristics of different types of institutions. As you create your list make sure you understand these catagories:


Penn State University, Cornell University, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Purdue University, University of Connecticut, Florida State, Ohio State

Every state has a land- grant university founded in the mid-1800s to educate “the sons and daughters of the working classes in agriculture and the mechanical arts.” Today these doctoral-granting institutions, often called flagships, have well-established engineering and agriculture colleges, as well as strong liberal arts, business and science programs. Land-grants offer lots of school spirit with Division I sport teams, extensive libraries, large lecture sections, and a wide range of faculty who are experts in particular fields of research. In addition to their land-grant universities, most states support other state universities. For example, the University of Virginia, Indiana University and the University of Michigan are state-supported. Students looking at big state universities need to be self-motivated and assertive if they are going to navigate the bureaucracy of a large school.


University of Rochester, Harvard, Columbia,The University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt University, Notre Dame, Washington University of St Louis, University Of Pennsylvania, Yale, Emory University, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon

Along with state-supported universities, private research universities make up the approximately 260 doctoral-granting research institutions in the United States. Private research universities have well-known graduate and professional schools in addition to offering undergraduate majors. For example, Tufts University has dental, veterinary science, and medical schools, and George Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania have medical colleges.

Private research universities are highly selective and look for students who are intellectually curious and seek an academic challenge. Many of these universities are located in large cities where students can participate in many off-campus cultural and urban events.


Allegheny College, Amherst, Connecticut College, Kenyon College, Colorado College, Wellesley, Swarthmore, Union, Ursinus, Denison, Wesleyan, Pomona, Bucknell, The College of the Holy Cross, Lycoming College, Haverford, Goucher, Williams, Juniata

The majority of liberal arts colleges are private and range in size from 1,200 to 2,500 undergraduates. They focus on undergraduate education with majors in the humanities, social sciences, liberal arts and sciences. Traditionally they do not offer career-oriented majors although many now offer a business curriculum. Students who like small class discussions, who want to be involved in lots of activities and play Division III sports and who are looking for a strong sense of community will thrive at a liberal arts college.


Berklee School of Music, Juilliard, Babson College, Bentley College, Colorado School of Mines, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Savannah School of Art and Design, and the Rhode Island School of Design

For students who are focused and sure about their career goals, who want to be a classical violinist, a business entrepreneur or executive, an engineer, or a fine artist, there are highly specialized schools in music, business, engineering and art. Specialized schools train students for a profession and have fewer general education requirements.


Lock Haven University, Quinnipiac University, West Chester University, James Madison University, University of Hartford, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, San Francisco State University, Longwood University, Roger Williams, Keene State University and Eastern Connecticut State University

General baccalaureate colleges may be public or private. All of them offer traditional liberal arts courses, but they usually award more than half of their degrees in career-oriented or applied majors such as: speech pathology, graphic arts, education, nursing, computer technology and business. The focus of comprehensive universities is on undergraduate education but they offer master’s degrees in many areas. General baccalaureate colleges are regional, and offer a comprehensive education with lots of sports and extra-curricular activities.


Harrisburg Area Community College, Manchester Community College,Northern Virginia Community College, Delaware Valley Community College, and Montgomery County Community College

Forty-eight percent of all undergraduates in the United States attend a community college. These schools, founded during the 1960s, were designed to be non-residential with open admissions. Today, there are public supported community colleges throughout the United States offering associate degree programs in applied areas such as hotel and restaurant management, criminal justice, accounting, computer technology or dental hygiene. Community colleges are an economical way for many students to fulfill general education requirements before transferring to a four-year institution.

For Seniors Finishing Up Their Application Essays

Here is some final advice from admissions representatives from DUKE and POMONA who were recently interviewed on NBC-TV Today:

Your essay should have” Impact, Engagement and Authenticity.”

The essay is your chance to say what you haven’t said elsewhere in your application

Don’t make your reader interpret or have to look for what your attributes might be; bring them to their attention

Always edit by reading your essay aloud before you finalize what you submit

Make sure everything on your application is appropriate and would pass the “grandma approval” test.

In addition, Dickinson College suggests:” When writing your essay, focus on a blade of grass, not a whole field. Tell one good story, not a condensed mini-series.” And Middlebury College suggests: “Make your first paragraph compelling. Don’t let the first paragraph put your readers to sleep….”

And I suggest some words to avoid in your essays: incredible, cutting edge, world class, it goes without saying, fantastic, really, awesome,  lastly, or super!

Gift Ideas

  For your high school student or soon-to-be college student:

  • A cookbook such as:  27 Easy College Cookbook Recipes, by Diana Bricker; or 4 Ingredients: One Pot, One Bowl, by Kim McCosker; or This is A Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, by Mac and Eli Sussman.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers, by Sean Covey
  • How To Be a Straight A  Student, by Cal Newport,
  • A gift certificate for Starbucks or Chipotle for a meal or snack away from the dining hall.
  • New UGGS, if your child will be heading off to a college in upper New York state, Wisconsin, New England or Canada
  • Tickets to a sporting  event or concert at your child’s favorite college.
  • For all those future writing assignments:The Sense of Syle: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker; or On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.
  • A Gas Card
  • Personalized stationery for thanking the teachers who wrote college application recommendations and for future graduation gifts